Off the back of a meditation on Charity wherein I had mentioned that despite having done a post on Agape already, I had more to discuss or elaborate upon. Today we will examine “Wu” of the Zen tradition, and dig deeper into Thelema and why the 93 Current represents not just Thelema, but also the oft overlooked Agape (love) component, as in Thelema’s credo: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, love is the law, love under will”. Allow me to emphasize two matters here: 1. that Eliphas Levi said in his Key of the Mysteries, as translated by Aleister Crowley, that it is before charity that “faith prostrates itself, and conquered science bows. There is here evidently something greater than humanity; charity proves by its works that it is not a dream.” 2. The Greek word Agape would be translated into Latin as caritas, which is the etymological root for the word ‘charity.’ From Corinthians: Caritas patiens est, benigna est. Caritas non aemulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur; non est ambitiosa, non quaerit quae sua sunt, non irritatur, non cogitat malum; non gaudet super iniquitate, congaudet autem veritati… or in English: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”
The Thelemic concept of True, or Pure Will is sadly too slippery for many who study Thelema or dabble in the occult and who happen upon the phrase and imagine it to be exalted circumstance or situation. “My true will is to be an actor, or a singer,” they claim, and believe that through “Magick” they shall manifest that end and thus attain a transcendence from the world by manifesting an ethereal dream upon earth. While artistic expression may be a part of one’s path, true will is about Samadhi and enlightened action (which is constant). Central to Buddhism there is the Law (translated as the “Dharma”) and if one is enlightened, they are considered to be One with the Dharma. In Zen, or Chan Buddhism, a Chinese Buddhist creation of sudden enlightenment which blended the native Confucianism, folk traditions and philosophy, so seeing the light behind the shapes of letters, it contained concepts such as being One with the Dao (or Way / Path), etc. Daoism has “Wu Wei” which is considered the heart of the Dao, and roughly translates as non-doing or ‘doing nothing’, implying no action being taken, and/or “effortless action”. It is to act without contrivances and unnaturalness… Or as Crowley put it, “For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”
“Wu” means not-have, or emptiness, yet is more than that and represents the Cosmic Space element (a rough equivalent to Spirit), “Sunyata” (void), and is often represented by the symbol of Vairocana Buddha (whose name means “he who is like the Sun”). Vairocana is usually mapped as being in the center of the four classical elements. Enlightenment would be when one turns the light of awareness around, from seeking externally to seeing internally and realizing that one’s true nature is “No-nature”, known also as one’s Buddha-Nature. (This achieved is “Kensho” which translates as “seeing one’s true nature.”) Everyone is a Buddha, though they must take responsibility and come through direct understanding themselves, and then function IN seeing themselves. Zen has four statements to summarize the school’s teaching, which are that it is: 1. A special transmission outside the scriptures, 2. Not founded upon words and letters. 3. By pointing directly to [one’s] mind, 4. It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and [thus] attain Buddhahood. (Buddha etymologically comes from बुद्ध and means “awake”, “enlightened”, etc.) When in “occult samadhi” according to the Zen teachings, one eats when hungry and sleeps when tired, and respond to situations freely and spontaneously – this is enlightenment, not something whimsical and unattainable. “Yea! deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, & not other.”
There is a division of action, where one manoeuvres through life and situation in accordance with the Way, or in accordance to the Dharma/Law, as opposed to acting Adharmic (which is to act in and/or cause division, contrivances, confusion, discord, suffering, etc.). Compare to Magick, which Crowley states we are always doing and it is conditional where one can be performing it well, or poorly, and he redefined magick as the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will. Zen is about suddenly realizing the root of suffering, and to achieve liberation right here, right now and to then take actions from playful samadhi. A translator of Zen texts, Charles Luk once said that in the earliest traditions of Chan Buddhism there were no fixed methods or formulas for teaching meditation, and that all instructions were heuristic methods to point to the true nature of the mind. He used as an example the Flower Sermon and the act of raising the flower, and said of Zen that it was referred to as the “Mind Dharma”. This is represented by the characters 心数 where 数 means number or count. If you look up “心数” in the Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English by William Edward Soothill, and Lewis Hodous you will see beside it a note that: “The esoterics make Vairocana the Mind or Will.” (Let it also be known that the character 心 represents both heart, and the mind and implies Intuitive functioning). “Making Vairocana the Will” is to do “pure” or “true” Will. I will do a number of posts on enlightenment in Zen, the association of Vairocana Buddha and the use of its symbology, but for this discussion I wish to move us back to putting the light upon Wu and its relation to Agape.
Steve Odin’s The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism introduced me to the writing of Muto Kazuo who compared the Nothingness, Emptiness and Wu of Buddhism with the Christian concept of Agape. Muto uses as one example, how the New Testament says to “love your enemies as yourself,” but in order to “love your enemies as yourself” this paradoxically would mean that you must abandon the self. This indicates the operation of Nothingness that empties the self and transcends the self. Crowley, for example in the Book of Lies has a chapter on Samadhi titled The Stag Beetle, which contains the line: “In love the individuality is slain; who loves not love?” and to “love death therefore,” and to “die daily” (to which he leaves a note that by this he means to practice Samadhi every day.) Or we can look to the Book of the Law’s teaching of non-duality wherein Nuit says: “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.”
Negative terms such as “self-sacrifice”, “self-negation”, “self-abandonment”, “self-emptying”, and “self-transcendence” describe Agape. Muto wrote: “Love must be the making empty and the negation of the self-centered ego. In other words, love must be to surrender body and mind to the function of nothingness (mu), which makes love be self-effacing. Love of one’s neighbour is the realization of the love of God as ‘Love-qua-Nothingness’ by turning the self toward others.” The work continues and is worth a read, though in brief summation designates a radical conversion from egocentric existence to that of an existence-for-others based on divine “self-emptying”.
Mahayana Buddhism has a Three-Body theory of Buddhahood (enlightenment) which are the Dharmakaya (truth body), Sambhogakaya (body of divine enjoyment; the bliss body) and the Nirmanakaya (body of transformation; physical manifestation). Vairocana represents the Dharmakaya, which according to Encyclopedia Britanica is a “body or collection of all the Buddha’s good qualities or dharmas, such as his wisdom, his compassion, his fortitude, his patience.” Vairocana represents each of us without the egoic-self, or having been stripped bare of the conditioned form. The Sambhogakaya, the bliss body, is when one has transformed the controlling five passions/poisons/desires, so that one can act without “binding” karma – to enjoy the pleasures of life in the Middle Way, without being hindered or without hindering others. When one has attained the Truth Body (selfless nature), the bliss body is employed in spreading the compassion and wisdom of Buddha (which is now one’s selfless-self) and is an impulse body to guide one’s actions in accordance with the Dharma.
Though Agape in Thelema, Wu in Zen, does not mean forced or contrived acts of charity or good doing. Zen Master Linji warned: “If you seek the buddha through karma-creating activities, Buddha becomes the great portent of birth-and-death.” (Suffering, samsara is implied by “birth-and-death” whereas Buddha is the transcendence of suffering, having realized its root. (At least in good health — though the decomposition of the elements is inevitable in life, which is why “dukkha” is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, something that often is abused by outsiders as seeing Buddhism as a depressing system, not seeing the meaning of this, nor the functionality of the teaching.
I will take pause here as I feel the next post examining Vairocana and enlightenment in Zen with comparisons to Thelema will be more appropriate for a self-contained post, which will likely follow this one. To wrap up this discussion, let’s enjoy a poem from Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693): “If you think the mind That attains enlightenment Is mine Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other These days I’m not bothering about Getting enlightenment all the time And the result is I wake up in the morning feeling fine! Praying for salvation in the world to come Praying for your own selfish ends Is only piling on more and more Self-centeredness and arrogance.”
I am writing this on the evening of Good Friday following some recent meditations on Charity, and having read some literature relevant for today’s date. This coming Sunday, my wife and I will be gathering for Easter over a ham dinner with relatives, including some members of my family which I had fallen out of contact with for nearly a decade now. Good Friday, Pig, and Communion of sorts are the themes of today’s post with a little light shed onto Charity.
Eliphas Levi in the Science of Spirits explained eloquently the symbolism of Communion. He had said that in Christ’s revealing the law of unity which is the law of love, armed with the power to overcome the selfishness of the flesh, which is division and death, had instituted a sign called Communion. He said of communion, that it was nothing other than charity represented by a common table, and as Christ had given up his flesh to pain and death in order to bequeath his faithful the fraternal bread to which he attached his preserving thought, he said to them: “Eat all of you, this is my flesh!” as he said of the wine of fraternity: “Drink, all of you, this is my blood, for I will pour it out in its entirety to assure you of the reality of this sign forever.” I wrote in my post ‘Meditating on Agape and Thelema’ of the Eucharist, the communion known as an “Agape Feast” which is a topic I will be touching upon soon, given that I had since read something interesting and relevant from the Zen tradition. I wish to do a follow-up post on the matter in the near future but must put a pin in that for now, so check back in the coming week for that discussion.
Back to Levi’s Science of Spirits, which includes a tale which I wish to paraphrase and present here today. It is a parable about charity, and it is illustrated by the ascetic Saint Spyridon (who had lived approximately c. 270-348.) It is said that it was a Good Friday following the Lent period (abstaining from meat for 40 days), and Spyridon’s food of the holy quarantine were exhausted, and as he was to spend this day and the next without consuming any food at all, he had nothing at home but a piece of pig’s flesh hanging from the smoke of the fireplace which he had reserved for an Easter feast. An unexpected knock happened upon his door, and he opened it to find a traveller exhausted with fatigue. The bishop received him with alacrity and surrounded him with paternal care; but he soon discovered that his guest was about to faint from starvation. It was too late to go elsewhere and the city was quite far away. Without hesitation, Spyridon cut a piece of salted meat, cooked it and presented it to the traveller who rejected it with astonishment and fear: “I am a Christian, Father” he said, “so how can you offer me flesh to eat today! Do you think I am capable of insulting the death of Christ, our master by my intemperance?”
“I am a Christian like you, my son,” Spyridon replied gently, “and what is more, I am a bishop, that is to say, a pastor and a doctor. It is as a doctor that I offer you this food, the only food I can offer you. You are exhausted, and tomorrow it may be too late to save your life, so eat this food which I bless, and live.” — “Never,” replied the traveller, “for you advise me what you would not do yourself.” — “What I would not do for myself perhaps,” said the old man, “but what I would certainly do for you, as you are going to do for me, who is begging you. Here, would you like me to put some of this meat in my mouth to encourage you to use it without scruples?” And so St. Spyridon took and ate some of the pork, to urge his guest to do the same; for charity, according to him, was a more imperative law than that of abstinence or fasting.
The traveller to deny sustenance, life, and charity would be a foolish person worthy of having a wheel broken over their head. For nothing is wiser, more harmonious, more moderate, more amiable than the spirit of charity. Charitas patiens est, benigna est. Charitas non aemulatur, non agit perperam, non inflatur; non est ambitiosa, non quaerit quae sua sunt, non irritatur, non cogitat malum; non gaudet super iniquitate, congaudet autem veritati.
Some fun: A foolish person was sometimes figuratively called a fish (ἰχθύς). This is fitting for today’s meditation as the sun is in Pisces (the fish). Moreso, ἰχθύς – ikhthús, is an alternate form of ΙΧΘΥΣ which is an acronym representing Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ. This acronym allows the letters to be traced within an eight spoked wheel (a symbol common to Sun worship – the Buddihst eightfold path, and a symbol of Christianity). The ichthys (fish) being a symbol of Jesus, known commonly as the Jesus fish.
Anyways… Aleister Crowley translated Eliphas Levi’s Key of the Mysteries in which we find the following: “Before charity, faith prostrates itself, and conquered science bows. There is here evidently something greater than humanity; charity proves by its works that it is not a dream.” – “Charity! word divine, sole word which makes God understood, word which contains a universal revelation!” It was on Good Friday that Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion on the cross. The Key of the Mysteries also states: “It is by charity, finally, that the folly of the cross has become the wisdom of the nations, because every noble heart has understood that it is greater to believe with those who love and who devote themselves, than to doubt with the egoists and with the slaves of pleasure.”
I’ll wind down the post with that quote. It is an appropriate note to end on, and it will prepare us for our future discussion, as the next post will return our gaze upon the concept of Agape and will highlight how this is fitting for enlightenment within the Zen tradition, and how it parallels to Aleister Crowley’s Thelema.
Pisces is the last of the Signs, so represents the last stage of winter, or of night, and according to Crowley it may very well be called the Gateway of Resurrection. So as the sun sets as I write these words, I see no better way than to end this post than to say: Have a Good night.
The title of this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek where my intended meaning with the wording is ‘Help me about Louis Lingg’. How, or why is this the case, you ask? My intent behind doing so was to highlight how easy it is to obfuscate meaning, and to unveil it at the same time.
“Mayday, mayday!” It has been heard in movies no doubt, or is known for its use in emergency situations such as impending crashes. It’s a call of ‘help me, help me’. The use of the word mayday as a distress call was conceived in the early 1920’s by Frederick Stanley Mockford utilizing the French m’aidez (help me). Anyway, I wished to write this post about Louis Lingg. No, not the physical human being Louis Lingg of the May Day events. And no, not May Day as in the Pagan Beltane sabbat, or the celebration of the return of Spring. ThisLouis Lingg is in reference to the May Day that was designated in 1889 as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists of the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in Chicago. We’ll get into what that is for context shortly. However, to clarify further on the title, this help about Louis Lingg is not for elucidation upon the actions of the individual, or their philosophical or political views, but is in fact referring to a particular writing of Aleister Crowley. That writing is chapter 81 in his Book of Lies, and that chapter is titled ‘Louis Lingg’.
I wish here to offer a lens for which we can view Louis Lingg in continuation of a response to an essay posted titled ‘Is Thelema Fascist?’ (I also responded to their criticism of Agape). Most of that essay ITF? continually called Crowley’s word, Thelema and its adherents, as fascist without much digging into the work’s meaning, even when explicit commentary is provided by the work’s author which explicitly demonstrates otherwise. In that piece which I glanced over with my initial response, there is another attack to Crowley which shoved him in the corner, and pierced him with a tag reading ‘feudalist’. This label was designated as appropriate as the words ‘I am […] for feudalism’ appear once in Crowley’s work.
Comedian George Carlin had famously remarked, ‘Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot; anyone driving faster than you is a maniac.’ I believe that line adequately sets the stage for reading Aleister Crowley’s chapter called Louis Lingg which contains the line ‘[…] in short, any man who falls far short of MYSELF — I am against Anarchy, and for Feudalism.’
This instance of the word feudalism appearing is pointed at, much like the other lines which were almost at random chosen and twisted to fit new meaning beyond what was intended by the author, at least according to their own records and notes. Though, I am not here endorsing the author or their positions, I’m utilizing this space for calling into question the logic of the questioner, or broadening discussion by highlighting other aspects which are being neglected almost as if intentionally.
To provide you with required context, here is the seemingly controversial writing in full below.
LOUIS LINGGby Aleister Crowley
I am not an Anarchist in your sense of the word: your brain is too dense for any known explosive to affect it.
I am not an Anarchist in your sense of the word: fancy a Policeman let loose on Society!
While there exists the burgess, the hunting man, or any man with ideals less than Shelley’s and self-discipline less than Loyola’s — in short, any man who falls far short of MYSELF — I am against Anarchy, and for Feudalism.
Every “emancipator” has enslaved the free.
This places Anarchy (Control for self) and Feudalism (Control for system) against one another, and says that every emancipator enslaves the free. So government, in governing, may restrict movements of those who would only do good with their freedom; growth; harmonious living in enlightenment. Yet they would need to compete with the chaos of those who would not look to contribute to building up, and establishing Order – there would be those looking to quicken entropy, to force outer worlds to match their inner confusion. One who may act out, like an anarchist demonstrator, is in their mind an emancipator, but they are imposing their ideals as they feel the system is imposed upon them. The authoritative force, in its emancipating movement and an attempt at order and law, is also enslaving the free.
The paradox is apparent, and Crowley’s rumination and text is quite clear in what it is saying with invoking feudalism – the author is not saying “hey feudalism is awesome”.
Though that was sufficient as a look at the piece by Crowley, we could break it down for further rumination to demonstrate the above is more fitting than an interpretation that was lopsidedly used as evidence of Crowley being a proponent of feudalism and fascism. Crowley starts the piece saying “I am not an Anarchist in your sense of the word”. This to me takes identity in being an anarchist, but not in how others may perceive one as an ‘Anarchist’ simply by projection that may manifest with receiving the input of that label ‘anarchist‘. Modern Crowley may have ironically used the hashtag “#notallAnarchists” should the Book of Lies been tweets instead of material published in 1912.
Crowley’s actions in life were often anarchic. Look at his pompous character parading, his ‘de-lewding’ public demonstrations, public ritual, his long history of emboldened acts which make his biography so fascinating, if they are all to be believed entirely. One instance that has had its validity questioned can be found in Crowley’s autobiographic Confessions where there’s a mention of Jacob Epstein’s statue which stood upon Oscar Wilde’s grave. The statue happened to bare a penis so authorities had it covered, and Crowley claims to be the one who had planned to, and then successfully did remove the covering on November 5th, and in doing so the happening received attention in the press. Epstein would say that “a band of artists and poets… made a raid upon the monument” and removed the cover, but Crowley takes sole responsibility. Whether he did this specific event or not doesn’t change too much with what I’m trying to highlight. Aleister Crowley acted wild, he was unconventional and consequently called names in the press, and was found swirled about in the mouths of the general populace. He had a reputation as a public figure, and he often wrote with awareness of who he was, and what he was perceived to be as. His writings utilized humour, paradox, shock, beauty, and prose.
“I am not an Anarchist in your sense of the word”, he starts. So, rather than having a sole takeaway at the end of reading the chapter along the lines of “he used the words ‘for feudalism’, so therefor he is a feudalist”, I would gleam deeper into the meaning. “I am not an Anarchist in your sense of the word: your brain is too dense for any known explosive to affect it.”
This now is where Crowley’s chosen title comes into play. Louis Lingg was an anarchist and bomb maker who had famously died in a prison cell, when he had placed a blasting cap in his mouth, blowing off his lower jaw and causing great damage to his face. He remained alive for 6 hours and reportedly spent some of it repeatedly writing “Hoch die anarchie!” (Hurrah for anarchy!) on the cell stones in his blood. The line by Crowley at one level of interpretation could be saying that the public who would label Crowley an Anarchist, in terms of an extreme view, to say that his ‘magick’ and acts were so terrible that he may pose danger, or act out in violence, that they are dense minded and that no known explosive, no matter how strong or capable it may be, nothing will penetrate or effect them as they are shielded in their ignorance. At the surface, it appears Crowley may be speaking on behalf of himself, but it’d be a line that could be stretched to universal application. He could be talking from the perspective of a mystic, a perceived mad-man, a mind of genius who may be questioned for their actions and independence in thought. Or even the everyday person who skirts rules, laws, and commands with their agency out of laziness, pride, or even with justified purpose. We all want to be anarchists and live without rule dictating our action, to live unimpeded by social or arbitrary structure imposed upon us by birth, but the reality and consequence of chaotic unstructured living would take away a lot of stability and safety we take for granted in our constructed reality tunnel-vision.
“I am not an Anarchist in your sense of the word: fancy a Policeman let loose on Society!” So here Crowley now associates a Policeman to the same behaviour of an Anarchist such as one Louis Lingg. The anarchists at the Haymarket Affair were distanced from by many who had previously supported the Anarchist’s movement. After the violence, lost lives, and chaos, they repudiated such violent tactics and considered the ends as self-defeating. The intention that drove the anarchists to such drastic and cruel means of act was misguided, though they may have been acting in what they perceived to be as good and just deeds. Just as a policeman who is generally upholding what is good and just may be corrupted in their power to act out of interest for maintaining and upholding the law. Or ‘law’ has usurped Law, and carriers of light are stomped out. Sadly many drawn to such a powerful position as a police officer may need strict guidelines and boundaries, observation and discipline to keep them reigned in, and to have them unable to be loosed upon society. Crowley’s end line mentioning the emancipator, or the liberator, does the Policeman wish to steer the society into freedom, away from vice and destructive behavior? Is there good motivation in their action as the Anarchist who rallies and demonstrates their want of agency? Are both sides viewing themselves as emancipators? Surely, I’d say.
Crowley’s Book of Lies chapters are all short, paradoxical, invoke thought, use contradictory language purposefully, as they are to be read and appreciated in Samadhi, or be used to cultivate Samadhi. Israel Regardie called the book’s writings koan-like for this reason (koans are Zen case studies that at times use similar multiple-meaning layered poetry, comedy and paradox). The study of hermeneutics can be applied fruitfully to Crowley’s writings, which have made them so striking and interesting to those who have devoted great time to their study and appreciation. These writings are to be read, meditated upon, placed down, then at another time, in a few more years even, returned to, and new insights appear and new meanings form. Though Crowley guides us a little and offers aid, as he provided commentary for much of his work. The Book of Lies being no exception, for half of the book is its commentary.
For a while the takeaway of this chapter for me personally, was the focus on the liberator or awakened one who returns to society after their awakening. Crowley wrote in Book 4 of enlightened men returning to society after a disappearance, from Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, each of whom came back to preach a new law. Crowley basically pushed the idea forward that there is nothing special of those prophets, that each individual can come into their own law, as each can speak the universal truths with their own tongue. In fact, in Liber B Vel Magi, there is a curse upon the Grade for those who recognize themselves at it, and it states that they must always speak their law. “And woe, woe, woe, yea woe, and again woe, woe, woe unto seven times be His that preacheth not His law to men!” Louis Lingg to me is presenting the issue of spreading one’s law, while also accepting everyone else doing the same in kind. The Law must be love; a reception of other’s Law with acceptance and survival of your own. Sometimes one does not integrate back into the mundane world on their return to earth, and they wish to make their external vision look like the internal vision which may not have been fully universalized, and is specific to that individual. This could be the often good intentioned doer who has experienced samadhi, but has not realized samadhi. Is one looking to liberate and uplift, but is in reality harming and hindering progress and proper evolution.
Crowley established in Thelema that there is personal mystical responsibility, we all must realize our own Nature. In Zen it is called the Buddha Nature. This is an internally realized truth, it cannot be spoken and spread. Think as example, the person who looks to convert not, BoTL III:42 reads, ‘The ordeals thou shalt oversee thyself, save only the blind ones. Refuse none, but thou shalt know & destroy the traitors. I am Ra-Hoor-Khuit; and I am powerful to protect my servant. Success is thy proof: argue not; convert not; talk not over much! Them that seek to entrap thee, to overthrow thee, them attack without pity or quarter; & destroy them utterly. Swift as a trodden serpent turn and strike! Be thou yet deadlier than he! Drag down their souls to awful torment: laugh at their fear: spit upon them!’
Crowley established the Law as Love, Agape, and that it is the law required to establish Thelema (Will). We cannot be doing pure will without love; systems which oppress and restrict love need to be overturned for progress and evolution.
Anyways, back to Louis Lingg, Crowley’s comment says, “Paragraph 1 explains that Frater P. sees no use in the employment of such feeble implements as bombs. Nor does he agree even with the aim of the Anarchists, since, although Anarchists themselves need no restraint, not daring to drink cocoa, lest their animal passions should be aroused (as Olivia Haddon assures my favourite Chela), yet policemen, unless most severely repressed, would be dangerous wild beasts.“
Here Crowley says loudly that he isn’t an anarchist by label. If using the non-personal interpretation we can opt for an interpretation of this being that a mystic or magician does not cause change through drastic chaotic and uncontrolled outbursts like a bomb. The conversation of Louis Lingg quickly passes, was likely used for comedic effect and established the tone of the piece effectively by appearing in the title. Crowley’s writing often reminds me of a Rube Goldberg machine where associations build from Qabalah to Gematria, and each piece can trigger another and eventually you end up with a result. In this piece the balance act of Anarchist and Policeman are played with by Crowley, both being emphasized as stations with their capitalization in his writing. They may even be seen on one level as metaphor for the mystical balance of Geburah and Chesed. The matter could be interpreted through many layers, from making the switch of being about specific subject matter in (an individual) Louis Lingg, or Crowley being self-referential, to the idea of division of other, finding balance, moving from external subject matter. The forces of Gevurah and Chesed, severity and mercy, strength and lovingkindness… the balance of Gevurah and Chesed dictates how one deals with what they encounter in the external world.
Yet in the external representation, the police are needed for those who would be completely against the law, against any signs or calls for order. Yet what is order imposed, to Crowley, if it is not in accord with the Law of Thelema? Crowley looked to establish Order by uttering Truth and the Law: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.” To the wild beast policeman inside all of us, should they not be repressed or constrained, we may wish to dictate what others are to say or do, or be prone to form judgments on how others choose to be or what they devote their time to, to condemn how they act. Yet, if they are abiding, and if you are abiding in the Law of Thelema, you must let them be and alter the limitation on your psyche that denies the experience of others, or what is not ‘you’.
“While there exists the burgess, the hunting man, or any man with ideals less than Shelley’s and self-discipline less than Loyola’s — in short, any man who falls far short of MYSELF — I am against Anarchy, and for Feudalism.” I believe that here Crowley is referencing Percy Bysshe Shelley, the English romantic poet whose work was mostly inspired by social justice and whose work is applauded worldwide, is held in great admiration and dressed in laurels. Loyola being mentioned is likely St. Ignatius of Loyola, who famously founded the Jesuits, and who devised the Spiritual Exercises which took a month to complete. They were composed with the intention of helping participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God in their lives, leading to a personal commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost. These (Shelley and Loyola) are extremes of recognized genius and dedication.
So Crowley says there exists the wealthy and padded, the capable survivalist, and those who fall short of the genius of Shelley or the self-discipline of Loyola (and then jokes by saying those who do are those who who fall short of “MYSELF” (ie the Ego of Self — Crowley’s, but perhaps speaking here for mankind’s too). We often will view others as foolish, and have that sense that we know what is best or that we are distinct from the mass that is Other.
As an aside, imagine how the world would be if people all were to do Loyola’s meditations? Better yet, full on holy possession, what would their performance of Jesus look like? How dramatic would the need and urgency be for them to act to save this planet and the souls upon it? How drastic would their acts need to be to attract attention required to spread their message? What would be the essence of the message, beyond Love? What extreme forms can the lesson of ‘love’ take? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and all that. Though if it were not just Jesus, there, isolated alone in that one body… what if there were a gathering, a group, a movement, or an entire world of Jesus? The dramatic acts and the need of them drop away and are replaced with sense of serenity, bliss and enjoyment… what labour beckons then? What creation then takes place?
This idealism; this projection on the planet and its residents; this demanding the animals cease eating each other, and that mankind is not to act mad… what is the solution? Crowley’s form of anarchy was to deviate off the path of normalcy, to study mystical mind states, traditions and practices, and then pushed his knowledge to the best of his ability into the collective so that others could pick up the wisdom offered and utilize it for their advancement on the path. His solution for mankind was Thelema, which is not fascism, or feudalism, but is pointing at the understanding of Samadhi. Thelema is summed up repeatedly as ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’, and that ‘love is the law’. Agape (gematric value of 93) is the love referred to, Agape being the Greco-Christian term referring to an unconditional love.
Others may look to more dramatic acts to stress their points, to demand for a universe of love. Crowley in Louis Lingg warns, “Every ’emancipator’ has enslaved the free.” Interestingly, emancipates’ etymological roots come from the latin ēmancipō which could mean as a verb ‘I emancipate’, but also could mean ‘I alienate‘. One shouldn’t alienate themselves and get lost internally in their quest to help others, to liberate mankind from its wrongs and to remove hate from the collective mind that festers in corners and sometimes marches in the street. Often a dramatic outburst or uncontrolled action will lead to repercussions which lessen the chance of similar activities happening in the future, which mean stricter controls and a more authoritarian approach are installed to garner better control of the masses. A self-defeating end for an Anarchist, indeed.
Reign yourself in, reign the ‘policeman’ in, maintain Law, understand that you are you, but that you exist within a society that needs to live under a shared law for harmony to exist. What else can you do, but use your voice to spread awareness of what that Law is to be and to produce art and song, movies and plays to raise the banner of that law for all to come to understand? Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, love is the law, love under will. This was Aleister Crowley’s gift to the world, and he wouldn’t take it back if you shoved it back, refusing to receive it.
Don’t lose perspective on the daily life. Don’t lose sight of the mystical. When there’s no more distinguishing, what potential is there to be explored when everyone is doing their true will?
A Thelemic critic posted: ‘#Thelemites qualifying “love” as “it’s agape, which is not your normal idea of love” are the most ridiculous people. Αγάπη literally means “love.” The usual kind, between you and your (!) loved ones. Φιλία is friendship. Έρος is lust. Grow up, stop making excuses.’
I am not fond of having to fit responses into Twitter’s character-limited box, and if it is entertained, I find it has the gift to throw multiple responses out of order when writing so when the thread is read it is garbled and confusing. (At least a little more so than my normal writing!) Yet, I did chime in for a little, and figured I’d do a post here as it allows more space to breathe where I can offer a meditation on Agape, and what I feel is valuable information when it comes to interpreting what Aleister Crowley was pointing to with Thelema.
The critic seemed to be taking a jab at those who would bother to take the effort to clarify that the Love in Crowley’s ‘love is the law’ is the love of Agape. Essentially implying there should be no distinction made when we see or make use of the word love, because love is love, despite even the Book of the Law having cut the cat in two with line 57 in Chapter 1: ‘Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God.’
Now one could argue for countless interpretations of that verse, and that is so by design. Here, it may serve to us in the meditation of Agape. For context as to what the critic was commenting upon and about this connection of Agape and Thelema, if you are not fully up to speed, Thelema is tied to Agape due to sharing the gematric value of 93. Crowley wrote that just as an arhat understands the dharma, so too does a qabalist understand gematria. This, they do when an adept, and at that, one able to achieve samadhi. 93 is significant as it represents the value of Θελημα (Thelema) and Αγαπη (Agape). Agape etymologically derives from ἀγαπάω (Agapáō), to love.
The critic followed their tweet up with providing us a reason why we should lean into their authority, or why their stance is more valid than those who are studying and expounding upon Agape and Thelema. The critic did this by stating that they speak Greek natively. They said, ‘It literally, in no uncertain terms, translates as just “love.” This whole idea of “different types of love” is revisionist BS made up by people who never had first-hand exposure to the word in its native environment.’
I am not questioning the critic’s roots, however their specific developing environment isn’t all environments or circumstances. The word was well used historically and for a time with great reason for doing so. Agape does by one layer of definition mean love, affection, and esteem, yet it also has the Christian definition where it means God’s love for humanity, good will, and benevolence. The Greek Agape would be translated into Latin as caritas, which is the etymological root for the word ‘charity.’ Agape also has a few esoteric-leaning interpretations. We know now Agape means the Christian’s love or charity by one definition, and also it exists as part of what is known as an ‘Agape Feast‘, or the love feast of the early Christian Church.
Christian theologians themselves look to raise Agape, or distinguish it from a base or common conception of love. An example as found in A. S. Dewdney’s response to Nygren’s Agape and Eros, published in the Canadian Journal of Theology Vol 1. No. 1 where the meaning of Agape is given as ‘wholly determined by its presence in God. It is the unmotivated love of God, which is directed towards us, not because of any value or worth in ourselves, or because of any good which God is looking for in us, but because love in God is the spontaneous outflowing of Himself.’
In that piece Romans 5:8 is next quoted where it reads, “God revealeth His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” The essay says of this, ‘This text is the key to the meaning of Agape. Where natural man would think it immoral to give love and fellowship except on a basis of like to like, God’s love knows no such limitation. Its nature is revealed just in the fact that it has no such basis at all. Men naturally love their friends, those who do them good or from whom they expect some good. But men who are filled with Agape will love their enemies. Their love, like that of God, does not find its motive in the character or attitude or value of those loved. It is simply out-flowing, self-giving love which needs no other motive than that it loves. This Agape then, is the love of God flowing down to us. We cannot deserve it or win it or rise to it. It seeks us at our own level, in our sin, and gives us fellowship.’
This love is not something exclusionary from us and our experience. Just as one must learn to cultivate samadhi to enter into union, or the non-dual state which is available always, enlightenment is available for us if we’re ready to realize it; God’s agape is outpouring and we simply need to take ourselves out of conflict with it, or come to recognize and rest in it. If Agape and Thelema are linked through gematria (which again bares repeating, Crowley writes that it requires an adept qabalist to appreciate gematria in Samadhi, just as it takes a Buddhist Arhat to understand the Dharma).
Some view Thelema as exclusionary, this is the appearance of every religion on their surface and by their divisions, choice of rite, aesthetic, and representative class, scholars, devotees, etc. Thelema is inclusive, it is pointing at the truth behind all symbols. From Crowley’s Liber Porta Lucis or The Gate of Light, ‘To you who yet wander in the Court of the Profane we cannot yet reveal all; but you will easily understand that the religions of the world are but symbols and veils of the Absolute Truth. So also are the philosophies. To the adept, seeing all these things from above, there seems nothing to choose between Buddha and Mohammed, between Atheism and Theism.’
Crowley used Agape and forged from it a symbol to decorate Thelema. However to not go on a tangent, let’s for a second go back to examining the concept of Agape, as we didn’t focus enough on that last one I offered which was where it is a love feast. Love feasts aka agape feasts are symbolic or ritualistic meals that were held by early Christians in commemoration of the Eucharist. Yet that is not all there is to it. Etymology offers a lot of light, but we must make a temporary aside.
A Warning against Pride
What causes conflicts and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the passions at war within you? You crave what you do not have; you kill and covet, but are unable to obtain it. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask. And when you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may squander it on your pleasures.
You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says without reason that the Spirit He caused to dwell in us yearns with envy? But He gives us more grace. This is why it says:
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
The word grace derives from the Latin grātia (“kindness, favour, esteem”), from grātus (“pleasing”), which ultimately traces to Proto-Indo-European*gʷerH- (“to praise; to welcome”) which is cognate with the Sanskrit गूर्ति (gūrtí) which means “praise, welcome, benediction”.
Welcome the HGA. Welcome Agape and Thelema. The HGA is a humbling concept, and if we open ourselves fully as to receive its presence and communication, as we’d receive God’s constant outpouring of love. Humble as a word originates approximately from its Latin root humi meaning ‘to the ground’. A Thelemite recognizes this, Crowley: ‘My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.’ While pride appears thematically in the Book of the Law, Crowley warned against spiritual pride, writing in Magick Without Tears: ‘On the Path of the Wise there is probably no danger more deadly, no poison more pernicious, no seduction more subtle than Spiritual Pride; it strikes, being solar, at the very heart of the Aspirant; more, it is an inflation and exacerbation of the Ego, so that its victim runs the peril of straying into a Black Lodge, and finding himself at home there.’
Anyways, Eucharist ultimately traces back to the Greek εὐχάριστος which means pleasant, agreeable, grateful, thankful, and is comprised of εὐ- (eu-, “good”) + χᾰ́ρῐς (kháris, “grace”) + -τος (-tos). To be thankful is to receive good grace. Agape consistently giving, am I humble enough to be thankful? The most significant Eucharist, perhaps the most renowned is the Last Supper, where we find Jesus offering bread and saying, “This is my body,” and with the wine, “This is my blood.”
That information was required like breadcrumbs leading us through the forest to where we end up now. Epiphanius of Salamis (C. 310-403), an early Church Father wrote in his Panarion (Πανάριον ‘bread basket’) translated into Latin as ‘Against Heresies‘, or Adversus Haereses. In this book Epiphanius wrote about the agape rite of the Gnostics. He detailed that a married couple would arrive at another couple’s dwelling, and would wiggle their finger in the palm of the other when shaking their hand to signal that they were of the same ilk. When they would recognize one another, the man would apparently tell his wife, ‘get up, perform the agape with the brother.’ Epiphanius then writes, ‘And when the wretched couple has made love—and I am truly ashamed to mention the vile things they do, for as the holy apostle says, “It is a shame even to speak” of what goes on among them. Still, I should not be ashamed to say what they are not ashamed to do, to arouse horror by every means in those who hear what obscenities they are prepared to perform.’
The obscenities they perform is after making love the man and woman stand with eyes raised heavenward, they lift their blasphemy up to heaven–the man’s emission on their hands–and they then clasp their hands in prayer and say ‘We offer thee this gift, the body of Christ.’ They then consume the fluid saying, ‘This is the body of Christ; and this is the Pascha, because of which our bodies suffer and are compelled to acknowledge the passion of Christ.’ Epiphanius continues, ‘And so with the woman’s emission when she happens to be having her period—they likewise take the unclean menstrual blood they gather from her, and eat it in common. And “This,” they say, “is the blood of Christ.” And so, when they read, “I saw a tree bearing twelve manner of fruits every year, and he said unto me, “This is the tree of life,” in apocryphal writings, they interpret this allegorically of the menstrual flux.’
There’s powerful exposition that could be offered on all of that, but we shall not divulge further on tangents! While this is interesting, this is not what Agape would be in Thelema, or even to Crowley himself. Would it? Surely however, with this brief time spent examining various aspects, one would see some value in putting Agape under a microscope. On discovering this essence of love as Agape is constantly outpouring, so too then must our True Will (Thelema) always be present. The importance is then placed upon the Act (or Magick). What teaching effectively sums all this up? Do what thou wilt.
What are you doing presently? Is it your true, or pure will? Those studying or practicing Thelema often speak about improving connection to the HGA, or wear their lengthy journey and struggles with how long it took to come into acceptance as a badge of honor. With truer understanding from the start, we’d not be waiting for clearer communication, or ever be disconnected from the HGA, as like Agape, it is arriving every second and it is us through love to uphold the marriage. Being accepting and giving thanks are as much a part of love as is giving or doing in the name of love.
Ephesians 2: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Aleister Crowley did his good works to raise Magick in the mind of the collective all. This meant his magick was defined clearly as the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. He then offered further clarifications that we are always doing magick, and it is our awareness of it that determines the outcome of our act. Are we performing magick well, or badly? We can’t help doing it. The mystic strives to act in samadhi, with wisdom, and intuition, manifesting truth and light. Just as in the system of Buddhism one must come into awareness of their every action and act in accordance with the dharma, rather than acting adharmic and spreading suffering.
The Book of the Law Chapter 1. verses 12-14: ‘
‘Come forth, o children, under the stars, & take your fill of love! I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.
Of course better Understanding of Agape would help us in our approach of ‘Love is the Law’, and would help us better understand Thelema (Will) itself through its shared qualities with Agape (which Crowley established through Gematria, and as we’ve reflected on already through this meditation).
Crowley wrote in the Book of Thoth: ‘On the Tree of Life, Daleth is the path leading from Chokmah to Binah, uniting the Father with the Mother. Daleth is one of the three paths which are altogether above the Abyss. There is further more the alchemical symbol of Venus, the only one of the planetary symbols which comprises all the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The doctrine implied is that the fundamental formula of the Universe is Love.’
If viewing the Tree of Life as a mapping of sorts, to attain to the non-dual, or to “cross the abyss”, to “attain Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” would require the establishment of the connection with the Intuition, the Neschemah, the higher soul (beyond the intellectual-minded Ruach). The Alchemical Salt is assigned to the Path leading between the Mother sphere (Binah – Understanding) and the Father (Chokmah – Wisdom) and is attributed to the Empress card, and as seen from Crowley’s explanation of the design, we saw it also represents the letter Daleth, door or gate. The Empress tarot card is attributed to the Daleth path, the card designed by Crowley showing in the corner a pelican feeding its young with its blood, a common depiction of Jesus Christ.
In the tradition of Zen it can be found that one attains to the Non-Dual. They arrive at the No-Gate, attain Samadhi and from then on act the Will of Vairocana (‘he who is like the Sun’). The process to nurture this state requires growing the Intuitive Heart-Mind… one must remain aware of their Nature and remain in accordance with the Dharma (Law) and they will come to find sustenance in spontaneous playful samadhi.
Of the Eight Consciousnesses teaching, manas-vijnana (“mind knowledge”) is the seventh as taught in Yogacara and Zen Buddhism. Via Wikipedia, it says of the Seventh Consciousness that it is, ‘the higher consciousness or intuitive consciousness that on the one hand localizes experience through thinking and on the other hand universalizes experience through intuitive perception of the universal mind of alayavijnana.’ Alayavijnana is No-Mind, the state of Samadhi held as the height of enlightenment in Zen.
As an illustration, here’s an interaction between Zen Master Joshu and a monk:
A monk asked, “The right-in-front-of-the-eyes Buddha. What is it?”
Joshu said, “The Buddha statue in the main hall.”
The monk said, “That is a physical Buddha. What is Buddha?”
Joshu said, “It is mind.”
The monk said, “If you define it as mind, you limit it. What is Buddha?”
Joshu said, “It is no-mind.”
Da’ath (Knowledge) Qabalistically hangs on the door. Above the abyss are the celestial waters and cosmic Space. Beneath the abyss, the water is blood. Above the abyss is non-duality, beneath is form and duality. For a parallel model in Buddhism, see mediations on form (rupajhanas) and the formless meditations (arupajhanas) which appear in the Five Dhyani Buddhas which also map the eight consciousnesses and show their transformations into the Four Wisdoms which enable the enlightenment body; Vairocana.
So would thinking about, or obtaining knowledge of Agape change how one approaches enlightenment in Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic system? Would this alter how they perceive their quest of Knowledge and Conversation, or the attaining to their True Will? Of course it would.
Would the call of one’s demon draw them to indulge lesser magick and never see the spiritual side of Agape? Or maybe they may be led by the Beast into performing variations of their own Agape Feast? It is not so simple to see what is meant or implied by Crowley on surface levels. There is even confusion where he offers clarity. So is not the onus on us to raise the meaning of this work and to offer freely our interpretation? Do not fall for the dualistic trapping of language or form, and do not allow illusions and phantoms to lead astray… nor those who simply wish to shame people out of study, while holding their own pearls tight. “Talking about or promoting Thelema is fascist except for the libers I like – it’s only Crowley for me, but not for thee.”
Tell those critics to eat some humble pie, and maybe make a eucharist of it. Really love that feast!
The Book of the Law Ch. II: ’34. But ye, o my people, rise up & awake! 35. Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy & beauty! 36. There are rituals of the elements and feasts of the times. 37. A feast for the first night of the Prophet and his Bride! 38. A feast for the three days of the writing of the Book of the Law. 39. A feast for Tahuti and the child of the Prophet–secret, O Prophet! 40. A feast for the Supreme Ritual, and a feast for the Equinox of the Gods. 41. A feast for fire and a feast for water; a feast for life and a greater feast for death! 42. A feast every day in your hearts in the joy of my rapture! 43. A feast every night unto Nu, and the pleasure of uttermost delight! 44. Aye! feast! rejoice! there is no dread hereafter. There is the dissolution, and eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Nu.’
What is your true Will?… Heck, what even is Thelema? What is Love, what is Agape?
Asking these questions, sharing what one ponders, and showing what one discovers is not creating an excuse of any kind, nor does participating in such work require any growing up from. Despite having to face the detracting and insulting comments that may be lobbed at one who does such activities. It’s simply examining mystical works, contemplating the creator’s intent, finding understanding in the texts, and sharing discoveries. Nothing is wrong with offering information to spark thought and discussion, so why should one be criticized for this?
It makes sense that these critical types would choose to be persistently critical about a system and teaching that in summary could be offered as ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.’
I had provided a rudimentary explanation on the previous passage, but won’t here yet. Another post in the future, perhaps.
A Zen student approached the Master.
‘I’ve come for the lesson of Mu.’
The Master answered, ‘what about Hu?’
‘Let’s avoid new texts.’
The Master took out a book from his back pocket, it was a copy of The Lotus Sutra. He tore out its pages, and dropped them to the ground, forming a circle around his feet. He coated the circle then with incense dust.
‘I wish to kill the Buddha,’ the student predictably offered.
The Master pulled out a pack of matches, lit two, and released them to the ground.
The Zen student observed in dismay, and then jumped into action, stomping out the two resulting fires.
The Master screamed, ‘Ah, Suryaprabha! Candraprabha!’
Trying to play along, but struggling, the Zen student offered, ‘what are they to you now? Nothing!’
The Master was screaming, ‘my eyes! I can’t see!’
‘You must teach in darkness!’
‘I can’t teach when blind,’ the Master shouted as he rubbed at his eyes, leaving the room.
When seeking a teacher,
Clear eyes are a must.
Texts can leave one blinded,
Like incense dust.
Bhaiṣajyaguru, Vairocana, Shakyamuni, would the student have the discernment as to recognize any Buddha? What about his discernment of a Bodhisattva? Would they have the eyes to see Avalokiteśvara?
Should you wish to read another case and commentary, see this post from the βούλημα Ligō: ‘Initiation‘ otherwise known as ‘Ctenodiscus Crispatus‘.
When I decided to restart this blog (simply throwing posts in The Stream), I had intended to do more Buddhism-related posts, as I have grown a great affinity for exploring the many aspects of Buddhist schools, from Theravada to Zen. I still intend to write on these matters too, though I often struggle in doing up site posts. There’s a weird blockage, a conflict over what I wish to write upon. Lately Thelema has been demanding my attention, and I have a number of posts simultaneously coming together about various subjects as it relates to Thelema, though I haven’t been giving them too much attention. Yet, when I write about Thelema, it always feels like picking up the largest uncomfortable boulder. The words go out when you hit publish, and you may see responses elsewhere and fear association, fear others misunderstanding, or fear being misunderstood. The snare of a thing so ugly, yet so beautiful as is Thelema. It becomes a very human idea, so turning from it and abandoning it is quite difficult once it has set its claws in one.
Bhikkhu Ananda, known to others as Charles Henry Alan Bennett, said of Crowley’s system, “No Buddhist would consider it worthwhile to pass from the crystalline clearness of his own religion to this involved obscurity.” Yet, what if one were to have the fortune, or misfortune of starting with that obscurity and through striving and contemplation made it through and then onto something like Buddhism? Then in viewing Buddhism, it’s easy to see into and appreciate deeply the more complex and esoteric writings, such as koans, and the wonderful Chan tradition. Thelema has a massive body of work by Crowley, with some real gems for analysis and critique, for examination and appreciation. Yet it hasn’t been held by thousands of hands over thousands of years, which is to its detriment, but also to its advantage, as there is a lot of opportunity to prove one’s capabilities–to shew clear understanding of these Thelemic pointers, or to create new inspired works in their vein. Yet to do so requires a bravery that falling back on Buddhism certainly does not when it comes to the court of public opinion and of reputation! Yet when I retreat for this reason, I tend to back right into the sword which reads: ‘Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven or upon the earth or under the earth. Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigour, of your arms.’ (BoTL III-17)
I’ve had to re-assess my goals with the pandemic and its resulting effects. The idea of striving toward creating a public meditation space/sleep temple (offering free hypnotherapy and hypnosis classes) above or beside a store which would sell all kinds of wondrous books simply isn’t the most feasible goal when you have to crawl and scratch for every dollar to fund it and with the current retail apocalypse. It’s a big vision which replaced many smaller ones, and I have been kicking myself since we recorded a podcast episode in which we spoke about writing, and in it I had dismissed writing fiction, something I have wanted to do from childhood. The impulse to write fiction has reappeared, at first in the form of doing some short stories, sparked by recent life events. I decided to re-read Aleister Crowley’s Wordsworth Collection of short stories, and also had to view some early correspondence with my (now wife) where we were exchanging short stories and story ideas we had written down. In all this it evoked a memory of when I was in Grade 10 and took an elective ‘creative writing’ course. The teacher for it was also the gym teacher, and I was surprised by his boldness to bring up Crowley in our class. I put my hand up (for once) that lesson, and engaged in discussion with the class, having read a few books by Crowley then. I’d eventually end up writing a short story as was the assignment, and wrote one detailing a shift happening globally as people ceased in their mad ways, having attained an understanding of Life, dropping away all delusion and obscurity, thanks to Thelema. Most sad is, I had written that when I was practically half my current age! So Thelema had its claws in me from way back then, became a lens through which I’d view other mystical works I didn’t explore in my teenage years, or even early 20’s.
It is only in the past few years that I’ve really taken identity in the Buddhist works, especially Zen (which my mind sees as a parallel to Thelema, hence the itch to prattle on about it at times here). I believe there’s endless inspiration still untapped from the Buddhist works, I believe them to be truly timeless, and time will only tell it seems what will happen with Thelema. However how I approached the Zen writings was the result of years of studying Thelema, so the place I write from is unique, unlike other monks or surface-meditators. I won’t be writing as some expert Buddhist or Buddhism scholar, but I hope in the least to offer thought provoking fun when I cover those materials!
Buddhism is beautiful and meets the criteria quite well laid out by Crowley in his calling for ‘the Method of Science with the Aim of Religion‘. Having grown what understanding of it I have cultivated, I am amazed by how purely logical, coherent, and scientific the system is, which is an aspect not lost to Crowley who in 1902 wrote his essay Science and Buddhism to demonstrate this. Bhikkhu Ananda (Bennett) was a friend and travel partner of Aleister Crowley. In 1902 in Burma, Bennett took his monk vows, and assumed the name Ananda Metteyya or “Bliss of loving kindness” and would become one of the first Englishmen to become ordained Buddhist monks. Bennett also worked with Golden Dawn leader Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers on a book of correspondences, which Crowley would eventually expand upon to produce Liber 777… Crowley would devote fiction to Bennett, invited him to stay with him when he had nowhere else to turn, and Bennett in turn helped train Crowley in white magic and enlightenment practice; both saw the validity in Buddhist practice. Unfortunately they eventually broke apart, with Bennett not seeing the vision of Thelema and Crowley rejecting Buddhism in the establishing of Thelema. (I can’t help but wonder what Bennett would have thought of Zen, and if having knowledge of Zen and its literature, would he have assisted Crowley in establishing Thelema…)
I wrote this as I have seen a trend of people looking to throw Crowley in the waste bucket in some kind of mob-like madness, disregarding the work of others who have carried the boulder (or mountain) so far and had shewn light upon the grounds it concealed. From this recent movement called ‘Post-Thelema’, to the few ostentatious folk who insist on the lowest and most dishonest interpretation of Thelema by calling it a fascist system (see my response to their essay here). Alas, the Book of the Law provokes me again, III-68 ‘Yet to all it shall seem beautiful. Its enemies who say not so, are mere liars.’
When I can finally stop clinging to Thelema, or perhaps, when it can stop clinging to me, I will look to broaden the scope of my writings and hop off the recurrent themes. For now, however, there’s a few more Crowleyean frogs riding leaves and logs down the stream and they’re heading just this way.
A long while back I was a participating in a Facebook group discussion wherein a question was posed about the Wordsworth Editions volume of Aleister Crowley’s short stories titled The Drug and Other Stories. My response reflected my opinion held at that time, which I recall as along the lines of ‘It is a most excellent bedside book… in that it serves one well as a sleep aid.’
I had initially felt compelled to purchase the book on seeing that David Tibet had written the forward, being a massive fan of Current 93 and David’s artistic endeavours. Of course I had long studied Crowley’s work, but was never entirely taken by his fiction. I enjoyed Diary of a Drug Fiend sure, and Moonchild was enjoyable enough. When I first obtained my copy, I had read the first few stories and shortly thereafter my attention waned, so I moved on to reading other works by other authors who scratched my itch more effectively. Add to this that I tend to avoid short stories given that they tend to be hit-or-miss, and the book as a result sat collecting dust. It took a global pandemic and this quarantine period for me to finally decide on sitting and getting through the entire volume of 49 stories. While not immediately immersed, a bit through my endeavour I found quite a lot of pleasure in exploring its pages. Enough so, that I do intend to one day re-read from the beginning with more of an appreciation for the collection, and knowing which tales are worth skipping entirely.
The stories range and offer a nice variety of atmospheres and content. Some are quite a bore, others seem to meander without point or purpose, and some are even horribly written. Though, this is to be expected in a collection of published and previously unpublished works written over the course of an 18 year period between 1902 and 1920. Quite a few were unmistakably gems, and a number of them in the least could be considered thought-provoking. It’s a mixed bag, though getting to view this lesser-appreciated side of Crowley is worth setting the eyes upon. I mean, in one story there are characters that appear with the names General Graf von Donner und Blitzen, and Principe Raviole dei Spaghetti.
I would not highly recommend that any and all should pick up this collection and read it in its entirety due to its length and the varying quality within, but would pluck out a number of the tales and present them on their own. This is a collection with some shocking materials and language, situations and concepts that were offensive in their own times, and offensive now perhaps for entirely different reasons as society and culture has progressed. If one is a fan or student of Crowley’s writings, this is definitely worth having. I’ll write a short bit about the stand out stories to me below.
The Stone Of The Philosophers – Meeting in the Holbein House, a master, a socialist, a classic scholar, a doctor, and a poet share poetry with one another, and discuss, and debate god, religion and philosophical thought.
Cancer? A Study In Nerves – This story is a tunnelling into madness as an anxiety-ridden hypochondriac assumes illness ever grows within him and overwhelms his entire being.
The Soul-Hunter – A fun story formatted as the diary of a vampire who is studying a man as to find the location of his soul.
His Secret Sin – Crowley really shines in these normal or grounded tales. I wish he had focused on writing more of them. This one is about a quirky eccentric man who does not want his daughter Gertrude being independent and studying art, all the while having fetishized a photo of a nude statue which is almost treated by him like pornography. Ashamed of admiring the picture, he keeps it locked away in a safe. Gertrude confronts her father with the photo one evening and things escalate to a dramatic mind-blowing conclusion. (Click here to read it)
The Woodcutter – This is but a few pages long, so I dare not spoil it here. It would seem at home in a Stephen King collection. Seek it out and enjoy it, chop chop!
Professor Zircon – A horror story of love and jealousy with a twist ending and alchemical references. Professor Zircon is a scientist who shares his interest and gets her involved in an experiment in an unforgettable way.
The Testament of Magdalen Blair – This was a strong standout of the collection. Magdalen discovers she has psychic abilities and participates in experiments with her professor who soon becomes her husband. In the eventual communicating with her partner who is ill and succumbing to his illness, when he dies, the connection does not. She continues to experience what Arthur Blair is going through as he loses himself to the void and she must fight not to lose herself too. A fantastic horror short. (Click here to read it)
The Stratagem – A man is waiting at a remote station awaiting to board the next train when he encounters an unpredictable Frenchman (or so it is thought at one point in the story) who regales him of an escape from prison, which he details having been sent to after an incident of mass murder. I will spoil to write of it much beyond this, but in prison the Frenchman communicates through non-verbal gesturing, through ciphers and Morse code to devise their escape. This one is witty and a nice distraction.
Felo De Se – A young man entertains suicidal thought at a river, when he is approached from behind by a Thelemic Master. The Master through a mental game of chess provides all the reason and support for the young man to follow through with his expressed desire, if he so truly believes it. The Thelemic Master explains True Will, and provokes enough interest in the young man that he deserts his suicidal ideation and decides to enter life renewed as a Thelemic disciple. This one stands out in that it is interesting to see a ‘case study’ of sorts, of what Crowley’s ideas are of how a Thelemic Master would conduct themselves and respond to such circumstances.
Robbing Miss Horniman – Miss Horniman (what a name) possesses an impressive collection of diamonds. When she shows them to a clergyman, word seems to spread of her possessions and she becomes a target. Though Miss Horniman is armed with wit and gun, she lets her guard down when she soon meets another who has an ardent collection of rarities and gold worth much wealth. In lowering her defenses, she falls in love and leaves herself vulnerable.
Face – A doctor seems to use hypnotism in his practice, and one of his patients falls under his influence. The mother forbids his taking the young woman in marriage for she is against mixed-marriage, and things all go south from there. Vengeance and lives are taken.
Atlantis – This was a peculiar tale, many esoteric pointers here. Interesting and creative, this one is a standout not in terms of its writing as it isn’t the best of the collection by any means, but is a fictional historical look at the rise and fall of Atlantis called here Atlas and their discovery of the magical substance known as Zro. Crowley in his Confessions wrote of this, ‘In particular there is a sort of novel, “The Lost Continent”, purporting to give an account of the civilization of Atlantis. I sometimes feel that this lacks artistic unity. At times it is a fantastic rhapsody describing my ideals of Utopian society; but some passages are a satire on the conditions of our existing civilization, while others convey hints of certain profound magical secrets, or anticipations of discoveries in science.’ This short was designated as a Class C document in the curriculum of the AA and also in the curriculum of the OTO, this work is known also as Liber LI.
The Mysterious Malady – Another story told through the pages of a diary. A man has worked his way up in life and became a doctor though finds himself without contentedness or home. He meets a woman who becomes his wife, though he remarks on her descent into illness to which he sees no cure. He suspects she has gone mad, that she is on drugs, that she and others have been conspiring against him. The tale goes a bit predictable, especially in the context of the collection where a few stories come to similar ends, but this is well written and a good read.
The Bald Man – One of the more memorable stories for me, and one I wished was longer. A soldier medic sees the body of a young boy on the field, and the corpse is not cleared away when other bodies are collected. He cannot remove the sight of the boy from his mind and becomes haunted by the death to the point of madness.
There are a few other shorts which are worth reading for studying occultists, (Wake World, Three Characteristics, T’ien Tao, etc. come to mind. As well for Thelemites Across the Gulf is an interesting read, not the best written piece by any means, but you get to spend some time viewing the life of Ankh-f-na-khonsu). Overall, it is worth having the book on your shelf if you’re a fan of Crowley or gothic horror and mystery works from the early 1900’s.
D.T. Suzuki had said of Zen that it is extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine and ‘may be found wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy, atheism or idealism, or any political or economic dogmatism.’ While most who would claim understanding of Zen would disagree with such a notion, as the praxis for most of its adherents would be outside of political or economical affiliation. Though Zen is practised by individuals, and those individuals then get involved in myriad events and circumstances, who is to say what form they may or may not take? Zen for instance, was used in the dissociation of Japanese soldiers in World War 2. See Brian Daizen Victoria’s book Zen At War which examines this aspect of Zen’s dark history. If unfamiliar with D.T. Suzuki or why his words would have weight, he is viewed as authoritative in the scene as he is majorly responsible for Zen’s spread and rise in popularity within North America.
If the mystical system of Zen could be utilized for fascism – does that mean it is inherently fascist? Most would dismiss this, and in my opinion, rightfully so. However with a twisting logic one may make the case (perhaps satirically) just as Jonathan Swift in his 1729 A Modest Proposal had suggested that the impoverished Irish should eat and/or sell their children as food to the rich as to remedy their hunger or soothe their economical woes. Yet, what of other mystical systems? I had come across an essay about Thelema and fascism, and whilst I do think it is a question worth being raised and discussed, the conclusive and final nature of the piece strikes me as Swift-like in tone, especially in how it is prefaced that it will demonstrate ‘that Thelema is, in fact, fascist’. However, I believe it to have been written with good intention, as we have bore witness to the subterfuge of esoteric and religious movements in history which has left humankind traumatized and burdened in evil and despair–as quick example, Hitler’s occult hand Heinrich Himmler and in his contribution to Nazism. I’ll provide a link below to the article on Thelema, which I would suggest you read alone without influence before we then ruminate upon it together.
The essay starts with a brief examination of Liber Al vel Legis (The Book of the Law–referred henceforth by me here as ‘BoTL‘). It is written in the essay, ‘Among excuses for fascism, we’ll also see a good number of justifications for Crowley claiming special dispensation, and positioning himself as the leader of that religion’ – I find this peculiar given that of course Crowley would position himself of the leader of the religion which was supposed to be the ‘end of religion’, in that further beyond the ‘Beast’ attaining awakening and self-realization through his own devised system, he pushed for individuals to strive as he had done so that they too could accomplish the same end. In his doing so he encouraged play, discouraged rigid orthodoxy, and even the blind following of him, as a ‘Thelemite’ should not look to any other for direction. I will later reference a short story written by Crowley which perfectly illustrates this, though for now this quote from the Beast shall suffice, ‘I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.’
BoTLI:10 – “Let my servants be few & secret: they shall rule the many & the known.”
The Is Thelema Fascist? essay (referred from hereon as ITF?) highlights this line first and issues the response that this is a prominent demonstration of the fascist/feudalist undercurrent of Thelema, that it highlights ‘there are those who are fit to rule, and those who aren’t’. At risk of controversy, is that not a common-sense remark? In your workplace, is every worker from the lowest to the highest most fit to be placed in the highest position of rank? Though, for some context on the BoTL, the first chapter is devoted to the voice of Nuit, the Egyptian goddess depicted as a woman bending over like the arch of the night sky. Crowley provides, ‘The elements are Nuit— Space— that is, the total of possibilities of every kind— and Hadit, any point which has experience of these possibilities’. So the ‘servants’ in question in the line are servants of the elements, of material existence, but also the space element, and possibilities within material being. Seems a tall order that not more than a few are capable of delivering.
This line of the BoTL does not announce the start of an aeon or period of time in which there will be from then on invisible servants of Nuit. Crowley in his commentaries upon the BoTL provides context during several different times of reflection in his life, remarking that, this is not new and has always been so. In Buddhism for example there is an axiom which states ‘form is emptiness and emptiness is form’ where form is approached in four meditations on form – the four elements (known as rupajhanas) and the formless or ‘cosmic space’ is approached in four formless meditations (known as arupajhanas). Holding the understanding of this is expressed in the doctrines of Non-Duality to which Thelema accords. Crowley for example in the Djeridensis Comment upon I:10 remarks that with the statement the ‘Masters of Mankind’ are defined, and that ‘Those who adore and love all things alike, for that they are of Truth, are yet but few, and are not known of men. Yet being free of fear and lust their power controls the multitude whose souls are subject to limit, the limit of knowledge, which is always two, and can be counted.’ In the New Comment Crowley states, ‘Such persons indeed consummate the marriage of Nuit and Hadit in themselves; in that case they are aware of certain Ways to Power.’ Lastly, it is not confined even to this interpretation, as Crowley also offers the mystical sense of the verse, stating ‘We are to organize our minds thoroughly, appointing few and secret chiefs, serving Nuit, to discipline the varied departments of the conscious thought.’
That’s a far departure from any fascist or feudalist views or interpretation. Mind you, the BoTL, and the Book of Lies, and other similar class of works by Crowley are mystical texts, are esoteric works, thus are not to be taken at literal face-value, so we should not be affronted by the oft shocking or even contradictory use of language. If you ask why should we look to Crowley’s commentaries as authoritative for our interpretations of these texts, well Crowley himself states that we must first consult his writings for clarification. Of course, disobeying him is easy when in the appended Comment in the text of the BoTL he suggests destroying the book, and neither discussing nor studying it. While my early contemplation of Thelema (even in adolescence) had not put the BoTL into a fascist or feudalistic view, others may (and apparently have), so falling back on the author’s reflections and intent serves more purpose here than to offer my own posturing or defensiveness of his work due to some kind of mischief, misguidance, or other investiture in the Beast or his system.
Should we eschew looking to external writings of Crowley, myself, or any other gobbler of dregs regardless of their stature or prominence, resorting to simply keeping the context of that line to the BoTL itself, I:22-23 states ‘Now, therefore, I am known to ye by my name Nuit, and to him by a secret name which I will give him when at last he knoweth me. Since I am Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof, do ye also thus. Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.’ and ‘But whoso availeth in this, let him be the chief of all!’
So the chief of all is also the ‘servant’ of Nuit who shall be few and secret. This rarity of Understanding is also impermanent, is shifting and passing, as the BoTL highlights that this period of volatility and change will be usurped or surpassed (in what is considered the Aeon of Ma’at, or Truth, Harmony and Balance), so who is to say that at such a prophesied time that all won’t then serve, and all will be known, as each individual shall realize themselves and that ‘they are Truth’? As Little Essays Towards Truth puts it in the essay aptly titled Truth, ‘And thus come ye to Sammasamadhi—thus are ye free for ever of all the bonds that bound your Godhead! … Then shall ye understand what is Truth, for ye shall understand your Selves, and YE ARE TRUTH!’
BoTLI.20 – “The key of the rituals is in the secret word which I have given unto him.“
The word is not quite known with full certainty. Crowley in his several commentaries assumed it to be Abrahadabra, which makes sense logically as it is the final word appearing in the BoTL in III.75: ‘The ending of the words is the Word Abrahadabra.’ This is also supposed to be the formula of the new Aeon which Crowley initiated humanity into with ushering his Word (Thelema) as Magus.
ITF? declares, ‘Here we see Crowley justifying his position as leader. The idea of secrets and mysteries has always been intrinsic to religious authority. “I know something you don’t.“‘
I see little in this jab, and am a tad tickled in the irony of the site decorated as the Order of the Silver Star, an online refuge following Crowley’s structure, utilizing his grading system, vocabulary and pointers, while also looking to decapitate the man and his work. As I said above, and repeat for emphasis, I see legitimate concern in the raising of the question, but can’t help but read the piece as satire. Crowley wished to do away with religious authority, so why hold him in such a position as though there is egg on his face? As if Crowley wasn’t, among other things, a great satirist? Could the same jab issued in ITF? not be said of every mystic, every guru, every Master? There is either truth to their mystical or mind states, or there is none. If there is none, why use his framing and hold him in any esteem at all? Do away with Crowley, do away with mysticism, do away with attainment and the books which drone on about such.
Crowley devoted himself to exploring mystical thought, experiencing mystical states, and if indeed it be the formula of this ‘aeon’, he extrapolated upon Abrahadabra in multiple writings. We know for instance, that it is representative of equilibrium, of the Great Work. This is a clear pointer to Samadhi (which is a recurrent theme of Crowley’s writings, and also the key attainment in other mystical traditions, for ease of reference, see the practice of Zen). Why is this Abrahadabra formula indicative of samadhi? The BoTL states in I:30, ‘My number is 11, as all their numbers who are of us.’ Abrahadabra is an eleven-lettered word, a significance not lost to Crowley. The number 11 in the Qabalistic Tree of Life is the number of the sphere of Da’ath, which means Knowledge. In Jewish Kaballah, Da’ath is where all ten sephiroth in the Tree of Life are unified as one. The number 11 is as mentioned, the unification of the microcosm (man, the pentagram, 5) with the macrocosm (the universe, hexagram, 6), and also represents the unification of the circle and the square, and the rose and the cross. Crowley noted in the Book of Thoth that the symbol which touches all Qabalistic spheres is the zodiacal symbol of Venus, which is the Universal Love – and as we know from Thelema, love is the law. The attainment of Understanding to Crowley was designated as ‘Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel’, where one crosses the abyss (which Da’ath is situated upon), and establishes connection to the Supernal Triad. Binah, within the Supernal is the sphere of Understanding and Emptiness (the Great Mother), and cosmic space, and also Saturn (death).
Samadhi is often paralleled to ‘death’. Crowley in the Book of Lies, Chapter 19 wrote ‘Die Daily.’ and provided appropriately the note, ‘In the last paragraph the Master urges his pupils to practise Samadhi every day‘. Samadhi etymologically means ‘bringing together’ and ‘concentration’, is a one-pointedness of mind. Crowley felt it worth clarifying that readers not mistake the destruction of thought to be the vacancy of an idiot, he instead points toward śivadarśana or Nirvikalpa-samadhi. Śivadarśana means ‘Vision of Śiva’, and is a term from Shaivism where there is complete identification of the ‘I’ and Shiva, in which the concepts of name and form disappear and Shiva alone is experienced as the self. This occurs when there is a cessation of all thought-constructs. The roots of śiva in folk etymology, according to the Sanskrit to English Dictionary with Etymology are śī which means ’in whom all things lie, pervasiveness’ and va which means ‘embodiment of grace.’ The term Shiva also connotes liberation and emancipation. This is why Ipsissimus (meaning ‘innermost source/self’) is the grade whose Mystery is Selflessness, for Selflessness is Self.
Nirvikalpa is a Sanskrit adjective meaning non-wavering, free from changes or differences (remember this as it will be brought up again shortly in the ITF? essay), and in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it refers to meditation without an object. Many authors have equated Nirvikalpa-samadhi with the Buddhist formless meditations, or the arupajhanas. Crowley too had echoed this in his essay The Psychology of Hashish where he wrote ‘the mystic states of this grade are the final and perfect identity of the Self with the Holy Guardian Angel, the Vision of Pan, the Four Formless States of Buddhism, namely, Samadhi upon consciousness, Space, Nothing, and that which is neither P nor p’, in logical phraseology. Here, too, we should place Shivadarshana, the Vision of the Destruction of the Universe, the Opening of the Eye of Shiva.’ …’for I have crushed an Universe; & nought remains.’
This Samadhi is a uniting the one with the all, of subject and object, Hadit and Nuit. The aforementioned Book of Lies chapter where Crowley insisted to ‘Die daily’, also encouraged one to ‘love death’ and to ‘long eagerly for it’. Crowley in his BoTL Commentaries would echo ‘Without fear rejoice; death is only a dissolution, a uniting of Hadit with Nu, the Ego with the All, י with א’
There is much more that could be said here, though we must move on and can always return in another article to touch upon these matters or offer clarification.
BoTL 1:31 – ‘For these fools of men and their woes care not thou at all! They feel little; what is, is balanced by weak joys; but ye are my chosen ones.‘
ITF? uses this verse as an emphasis of a repetitive theme that connects Crowley to saying I, chosen, big, strong, good; others, weak, lowly, slaves.
Crowley’s commentaries succinctly clarify these matters. Do not take up mob-mentality. The specific commentary in Crowley’s New Comment on the verse states, ‘This thesis concerning compassion is of the most palmary importance in the ethics of Thelema. It is necessary that we stop, once for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business. Each individual must be left free to follow his own path. America is peculiarly insane on these points. Her people are desperately anxious to make the Cingalese wear furs, and the Tibetans vote, and the whole world chew gum, utterly dense to the fact that most other nations, especially the French and British, regard ‘American institutions’ as the lowest savagery, and forgetful or ignorant of the circumstance that the original brand of American freedom – which really was Freedom – contained the precept to leave other people severely alone, and thus assured the possibility of expansion on his own lines to every man.’ Is there not some sad grain of truth in this? We can look at America’s overthrowing of foreign governments, of destabilization and inadvertent participation in the creation of monstrous entities that wreck havoc upon unfortunate victims.
A bodhisattva can set themselves the goal of liberating all other beings, though how does one enact this? One can only work where they are. This is a matter that was even approached in recorded Zen dialogues. As an example, in an exchange between two monks one named Dizang said, ‘How is Buddhism in the South these days?’ To which Xiushan replied, ‘There’s extensive discussion.’ Dizang said, ‘How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?’ Xiushan then asked, ‘What can you do about the world?’ and Dizang said, ‘What do you call the world?’
Crowley seems to be saying with Thelema, the law is for all, however it is not for us to do more than spread awareness and tools of self-realization to those we meet and let them nurture the seed. Unless of course, it is our true will to work within our environment and to exhaust ourselves in endless charity, which we should then pursue and not waste a minute in the day. However, it does no good to burden oneself with the sorrows of a planet full of suffering; my food cannot be placed in the hand of one outside of my reach.
How could one, with awareness of the truth of the transience of existence, of suffering around the world, ever find solace in a moment of rest? How could one enjoy their tea if in their cup they look upon the leaves and read of global misfortune and devastation?
BoTL I:32 – Obey my prophet! follow out the ordeals of my knowledge! seek me only! Then the joys of my love will redeem ye from all pain.
Upon this verse the essay writer highlighted to simply say ‘Rather self-explanatory.’
… Is it? Who is obeying the prophet, the one who examines his words or the one who takes the text at literal face-value? When the Master invokes paradox by insisting on disobedience, how does one conform? If you obey the instruction for disobedience, you cannot be disobeying as you are in abeyance. If you disobey the instruction for disobedience, then in so doing you are actually obeying, and therefor not following the instruction.
The context of the pain mentioned in verse I:32 would be the pain of division, in line with the theme of the book and work. This division is mentioned in the BoTL as being the reason for the existence of love, with love creating union. The mystical work, the Great Work is looking to Samadhi; to cultivate the unification which is not-two, non-dual; as above, so below.
BoTL I:49 – Abrogate are all rituals, all ordeals, all words and signs. Ra-Hoor-Khuit hath taken his seat in the East at the Equinox of the Gods; and let Asar be with Isa, who also are one. But they are not of me. Let Asar be the adorant, Isa the sufferer; Hoor in his secret name and splendour is the Lord initiating.
ITF? mentions this as Crowley justifying his æonics, which they say is ‘a lie justifying his position as the leader of this new religion.’ I agree that it enforces the idea of aeons, as the Thelemic current is supposed to have been the ushering in of energy, of the new spirit which would enliven humanity from the year 1904 until the coming of the next aeon. Simply examining this line makes it rather clear what is implied in such.
All old rituals, ordeals, they are fetters. How are they being utilized, how are they being performed or enacted, and with what intent, and why? We of course can take ritual up if we are in understanding of them. Ritual is useful, but what is the concept of ritual confined to? Making tea is a ritual. In Samadhi are all acts true will; every action is magick. The new paradigm is just this. Every intended action is magick, every unintended action is magick done poorly. Using Buddhism as a point of reference, are one’s actions in accordance with the law (dharma), or are they adharmic? Are the actions being done in non-doing and thus free from karmic bond, or is the doing creating suffering and binding karma?
Asar is Osiris, Isa is of course the name of Jesus, and is brought up here as Crowley believed that there was stagnation in Christianity. The dogmatic belief in Christ he saw as an iron-chain which needed transcending, else it may stupefy and drag down its devotee. The belief in an external figure to model oneself after in thought, action and accordance, is surely a useful tool, though Crowley found it insufficient. Just as in Zen the external concept of Buddha is denounced, and one turns inwardly to realize that they are Buddha – there’s even the saying, if you meet a Buddha on the road, kill him. In Little Essays Towards Truth, Jesus’ saying from John 14:6 can be found, though Crowley says we will all share in the realization of Christ; ‘Truth is our Path, and Truth is our Goal; ay! there shall came to all a moment of great Light when the Path is seen to be itself the Goal; and in that hour every one of us shall exclaim: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!”’ So, not WWJD, but rather, ‘What Will I Do?’ Do what thou wilt.
This is a passing from the age of the ‘dying gods’, so what is meant by Hoor initiating? Crowley provided that etymologically initiation means to journey inwards. We also know of esoteric Christianity, that Jesus’ name means salvation and may represent the release of the ego self into the all; a soteriological release. INRI inscribed upon the cross of Christ can imply Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum, or it is representative of the four elements in classic Hebrew: Iam, Nour, Ruach and Iabeshah. In this latter understanding Christ becomes a symbol to be utilized like the Buddhist symbol of Vairocana (whose name means He Who Is Like the Sun) and represents Shakyamuni Buddha on one level but also cosmic space emptiness (sunyata) in the center of the four elements.
On the conceptualizing of, or even in the truly held belief of an external individual, divine or otherwise, Crowley is saying that in the aeon starting with the release of the Book of the Law, the world, (and I gleam in particular) the West would enter a phase of thought more in-line with what is existent in the East, where one turns the light of awareness around, from seeking externally, to seeing internally; to realizing our own Buddha-nature, our no-nature, our Emptiness, our True Nature. The popularity of Zen and mindfulness practices and the crowds departing dogmatic traditions in America seems to show that Crowley’s supposition was not far off, even if it was not Thelema which offered this to the masses. Though, Thelema does offer a guiding mark, we are not to be lost in this disillusion of self as some mystics may be, Crowley states in his commentaries on the BoTL that ‘I am not my neighbour’; while both of us may be None, it is because of love that we can be ourselves, each of whom is unique and appreciated in our differences.
BoTL II:18 – ‘These are dead, these fellows; they feel not. We are not for the poor and sad: the lords of the earth are our kinsfolk.’
ITF? places the above verse to illustrate Crowley’s creation of an elite class once again, and provides no substance beyond its placement. The verse preceding the one provided as evidence of Thelema’s fascist tendencies stated ‘The sorrows of pain and regret are left to the dead and the dying, the folk that not know me as yet.’ So that is its context. Those who move through life in pain and regret do not know themselves as the perpetual virgin; they do not know the release from conditioned form, do not know the emptiness of their True Nature, do not know Hadit.
The Djeridensis Comment offers the best clarification of the matter, where Crowley wrote, ‘such folk “feel not”, even though they suppose themselves to feel more keenly than those who enjoy life and death — those whom they call callous. But the truth is that since Events compose Life, and each Event is an act of Love under Will, all feelings except those of joy, conquest, triumph and rapture are not Events at all and so do not belong to Life. The poor and sad are not of Hadit; for to know that one is He confers full wealth and complete joy: it is the title to Lordship of the Earth. All leaders of men are active, finding pleasure even in toil, hardship, and defeat: they accept every Event as proper to their chosen course of action, and conquer even when they are beaten down for the moment. They die at the crisis of the battle, with failure certain; yet they rejoice, having lived and loved and fought and done their will; those for whose cause they fought will reap at last where they have sowed.’
This will take us into the next verse quoted in ITF?
BoTL II:21 – We have nothing with the outcast and the unfit: let them die in their misery. For they feel not. Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched & the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world.
ITF? simply puts under this passage, ‘Here we have Crowley embracing fascism. Very directly.’ …I guess I must have missed something! It appears they had too, as it’s interesting that despite quoting the book as evidence, they lopped off the end of that verse. It continues, ‘Think not, o king, upon that lie: That Thou Must Die: verily thou shalt not die, but live. Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy for ever. Nuit! Hadit! Ra-Hoor-Khuit! The Sun, Strength & Sight, Light; these are for the servants of the Star & the Snake.‘
They who possess the Great Arcanum are the true kings. The word king implies a crowning; which can be seen as Kether (the Crown) Qabalistically at the top of the Tree of Life. The book also addresses here the reader as ‘king’, so this is not a class by designation, but a class of volition.
At the beginning of this retort to ITF? I mentioned a short story which I wished to draw upon as it demonstrated that a ‘Thelemite’ should not look to any other for direction. It also demonstrates this matter of the uncast and the unfit in the context of Thelema. The short story is titled Felo de Se and was originally published in 1917. To sum it up, in this story written by Crowley a man contemplating suicide is at a river when he is approached from behind by a Thelemic Master. ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. A fine night,’ the Master says, which breaks the deep thought of the young man, who replies mechanically, ‘a fine night, sir!’ The Master apologizes for breaking the young man’s meditation and offers to part, and the man bursts out with the statement that he was only going to kill himself. The Master said he applauds the decision, which leaves the man baffled. The man goes on predictably, saying that if only the reasons why were known. The Thelemic Master cares not to entertain the matter and simply says that if it is his intention, and if it is in accordance with his Will, that is reason enough.
The Thelemic Master then goes on to explain why he feels suicide is lawful, should the desire to do so be enacted with the calm ecstasy which should accompany our every act. The Thelemic Master explains philosophically why it is acceptable as well as ethically, socially, and even religiously, invoking Jesus Christ’s deliberate suicide planned for all eternity, where a universe of infinite agony was created in order to redeem it by the act of suicide. He talks of soldiers who go forward into death knowingly in order to save another. This befuddling conversation turns the suffering man from his thoughts, and the Master had shot down the man’s every avenue of justifying his lack of commitment on performing the act. The Master lectures the man to go on in the face of all events as one faces death, be it speaking to a woman, or obtaining what he wishes in life. At the very end of their exchange, the Master is asked by the young man if he would take him on board as a disciple, the Master agrees to take him on, stating, ‘Since I have persuaded you with all my power to do a thing and you now desire to do the opposite, you are preeminently fitted for a disciple. You will get on splendidly with the others, I am sure.’ The Master and disciple then walk off, where they can entertain talk of other things, or enjoy the silence of the moonlit loveliness. The sun rises, and awakens a world to a new day’s life worth living.
This short story illustrates quite well, in my opinion, what is meant by compassion in Thelema. The Master had a tender heart and knew what to say intuitively to free the young man from the trappings of his mind, though on the surface his acts and words did not appear charitable nor compassionate yet in their effects proved highly efficacious and life-saving. This also highlights what a Thelemite should be in Crowley’s eyes, one who acts in accord with their Will only, not by impulse or external conditioning pressure. A king is made, and a king fears not death.
Aleister Crowley in Magic Without Tears wrote: “When you can help others as it should be done, without embarrassment, false shame, with your whole heart in your words—do it simply, to sum up—you will find yourself way up on the road to that royal republic which is the ideal of human society.”
BoTL – II:24 ‘Beware lest any force another, King against King! Love one another with burning hearts; on the low men trample in the fierce lust of your pride, in the day of your wrath.’
ITF? says of this, ‘More fascism. It should be already obvious that Thelema is intrinsically elitist, classist, and not at all interested in the aid of those who need it most.’
Who or what is Thelema? Is Thelema a group mind? Of course not. Individuals should be interested in elevating and giving aid to those who need it most, or to those who are receptive of one’s aid. Those individuals who have the means to do for others, or who desire to do for others at a cost of self, would in Thelemic philosophy be in tune with their higher purpose, their pure or true will when setting themselves to the task. Someone with cancer may need help, what am I to do not being a doctor, or a scientist in search of the cure? Yet if it be my Will to set myself on the cure, I will read aplenty, I will study vigorously, I will support others in their study and research with funds, but in doing so, would I not be ignoring the homeless man who lays at the door of the next store I enter? Thelema does not set an objective on helping anyone, though it does not discourage, nor prevent its adherants from helping wherever they can or see fit to.
The verse was removed from its context. King against King, ‘as brothers fight ye!’ the BoTL states, so love others and act in love, though don’t be afraid to correct another or present solutions or art where it may be most apt to present it. Don’t be afraid to confront the views of another, to question one’s stance and position. If they are a King truly, they will not fall in your doing so. Thelema invites its practitioners to apply skepticism to all aspects of life. Crowley also denounced group or hive mind thinking.
BoTL II:25 – ‘Ye are against the people, O my chosen!‘
This is continuing the theme of thinking for oneself. Crowley wrote in his commentaries on this chapter, ‘Any unit, any true star, is kingly but the people as a multitude — even though each unit be noble — are not themselves, they are a confused mass of chance atoms.’
ITF? states that this is once again ‘Self-evident. The meaning of this should be apparent; those “chosen” are against the average person. It’s a value judgment, which justifies exploitation. Clearly those chosen are “better” in Crowley’s eyes, yet we’re never given good support for that being the case. History and experience demonstrate that isn’t the case. Another lie in defense of fascism.’ I can’t help but feel that this is starting to read like a lazy defense of a fascist interpretation of Thelema where the evidence hasn’t stood on much merit or rational grounding. There are valid points reached if we have the patience to work through the bulk of this document, but I am compelled to craft an analogy here for entertainment. This thus far has seemed to be a murder trial which has yet to touch upon evidence, but has been an examination of the suspect’s wardrobe. ‘Look at their hat, surely that is precisely the hat that such a murderer would wear,’ ‘only a murderer would sport such shoes!’
I don’t think Crowley’s definition of ‘better’ in this argument would be that one is predestined, or by fate intrinsically better, but that through personal striving to break free of chains and conditions, those who will understand what it is to act in Samadhi, and have the understanding as to attain it, are the chosen. Though there is some validity of ITF?’s questioning the intent of this verse, as Crowley’s Old Comment on the verse stated ‘The cant of democracy condemned. It is useless to pretend that men are equal; the facts are against it. And we are not going to stay, dull and contented as oxen, in the ruck of humanity.’
As much as we may hate these words, and Thelema offers no solution nor does it hint at one, must we be confined within the structure of the crowds choosing? ITF? in its introduction used Donald Trump as an example, so what if this 2021 presidency went to Donald Trump due to the public being swayed by his charisma? Was it not a close enough call? Do not those on the left and right both question the choices and rationale of those on the other side? What happens when the scale is tipped, when there is no balance? What of one’s feelings on democracy then? To raise question of it is to shock many, though it may be something heard in hushed circles undoubtedly.
Since I am personally for democracy, I had always interpreted this verse at its deeper meaning, which Crowley highlighted too in his Comment, ‘Still deeper, there is a meaning in this verse applicable to the process of personal initiation. By “the people” we may understand the many-headed and mutable mob which swarms in the slums of our own minds. Most men are almost entirely at the mercy of a mass of loud and violent emotions, without discipline or even organization. They sway with the mood of the moment. They lack purpose, foresight, and intelligence. They are moved by ignorant and irrational instincts, many of which affront the law of self-preservation itself, with suicidal stupidity. […] For this reason the first task of the Aspirant is to disarm all his thoughts, to make himself impregnably above the influence of any one of them…’
What mob makes up my mind? Is it those who have conditioned and nurtured me throughout life, or perhaps those who had once antagonized me? Maybe it was those whose words I read many years ago and their resulting thoughts echo in my brain to this day? Who are ‘the people’ that pollute my mind with their taunting and chatter?
Then on another level, how does one distinguish themselves, or build something anew if they are complacent and shuffled along in only what exists? New thought is built upon and then imposed upon the old, new ideas will always rattle a conservative foundation. IAO is valid for a reason. Ye are against the people, to me, has never implied a class or self-elevation, but a motivating verse akin to ‘you can do it even if they doubt you so!’
BoTL II:48 – ‘Pity not the fallen! I never knew them. I am not for them. I console not: I hate the consoled & the consoler.’
ITF? places the above quote without remark or context, as if it in its sole existence establishes the fact that Thelema is a fascist system.
Crowley’s New Comment offers enough for us to rebuke this in an instant, ‘It is several times shewn in this Book that ‘falling’ is in truth impossible. “All is ever as it was”. To sympathize with the illusion is not only absurd, but tends to perpetuate the false idea. It is a mistake to ‘spoil’ a child, or humour a malade imaginaire. One must, on the contrary, chase away the shadows by lighting a fire, which fire is: Do what thou wilt!’
BoTL II:49 – ‘I am unique & conqueror. I am not of the slaves that perish. Be they damned & dead! Amen.’
ITF? once again cuts off a verse which is most important to shedding light on its meaning, is this intentional? The verse continues, ‘(This is of the 4: there is a fifth who is invisible, & therein am I as a babe in an egg.)’
As I mentioned previously with Vairocana, and with Jesus on the Cross (of the four elements), I always took this line in a mystical sense. ITF? writes under the verse instead, ‘Doesn’t this just perfectly echo the same self-aggrandizing spirit we see in Donald Trump? There is absolutely no excuse, if we are to live in a civilized society.’ I simply reply, no it does not echo it at all..
The four formless meditations we looked at as meditations on cosmic space (the arupajhanas) are mapped in a model called the the Five Great Buddhas, or the Five Jinas (Sanskrit for “conqueror” or “victor”). Vairocana (Space) is positioned in the center of the four elements and Buddhas, and when Vairocana first appears in the Brahmajala Sutra, he appears sitting atop a lotus pedestal. Haropocrates, who is the ‘babe in an egg’ referred to by Crowley, often too appears as the Babe in the Egg of Blue that sits upon a lotus flower. A pure coincidence, but the mystical meaning should not be lost or replaced by omitting the parenthesis and focusing solely on the word ‘conqueror’ and declaring that is evidence of fascism. The image is larger and evidently talking of something beyond a mundane interpretation. If it was left intact, it would convey this evidently.
BoTL II:58 – ‘Yea! deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, & not other. Therefore the kings of the earth shall be Kings for ever: the slaves shall serve. There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up: all is ever as it was. Yet there are masked ones my servants: it may be that yonder beggar is a King. A King may choose his garment as he will: there is no certain test: but a beggar cannot hide his poverty.’
What is mystical attainment? There’s the Zen aphorism, ‘before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water’. Deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, & not other. To me this verse is clear in what it points at. We are not to establish some notion of what we are to attain and be forever approaching it, or worse, moving away from it. We must find acceptance of what’s here and now, must come to know ourselves. ‘Ye shall be as ye are’ brings to my pondry the question of dependent origination, a King knows himself to be empty, may be in situations and circumstances, plays of Nuit which are viewed unfavourably, yet the King remains ensconced. The beggar however, is always pleading for change, always lusting after what ‘could be’ or what will one day be, never possessing here and now.
Obviously it does reverberate on the physical level some truth as well. A rich CEO may walk about in a stained t-shirt and baggy sweatpants, drive around in their beat-up truck, though this is a choice. A poor individual who wears those clothes out of unfortunate circumstance cannot drive in a Tesla to enter a boardroom in a suit and tie. Though we know that through determination, and luck, one may go from the lowest situation to the highest. We also know the inverse is possible with the descent of the highest to the lowest. So how is a king of the earth a king forever? His Understanding of Self perhaps is not dependent of his position or station in life.
BoTL II:59-60 – ‘Beware therefore! Love all, lest perchance is a King concealed! Say you so? Fool! If he be a King, thou canst not hurt him. Therefore strike hard & low, and to hell with them, master!’
ITF? writes under the last three verses (II:58-60), ‘As we can clearly see, the Book of the Law, the central book on which Aleister Crowley founded Thelema, is outright endorsing “might makes right.”’
The term ‘might makes right’ invoked here likely stems from the work of Ragnar Redbeard called also ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (who to my knowledge Crowley never wrote about, nor appreciated the work of), yet Crowley’s Old Comment to the verse does state ‘Hit out indiscriminately therefore. The fittest will survive. This doctrine is therefore contrary to that of Gallio, or of Buddha.’ The saying of Zen Master Linji is a tad more nuanced, but taps into the same vein, ‘When you meet a master swordsman, show him your sword. When you meet a man who is not a poet, do not show him your poem.’ Crowley however more had the attitude of, if you won’t appreciate or entertain my poetry, I won’t conceal it out of shame, or care to protect you any from it.
Crowley’s New Comment highlighted ‘Our Law knows nothing of punishment beyond that imposed by ignorance and awkwardness on their possessor. The word ‘hell’ must therefore be explained in terms neither of virile vulgarity, or theological blackmail.’
If the Law is for all, others would approach us with the same mentality. Crowley quotes his own Book of Wisdom or Folly in the comment upon II:59-60, ‘Therefore must thou seek ever those Things which are to thee poisonous, and that in the highest Degree, and make them thine by Love. That which repels, that which disgusts, must thou assimilate in this Way of Wholeness. Yet rest not in the Joy of Destruction of every Complex in thy Nature, but press on to that ultimate Marriage with the Universe whose Consummation shall destroy thee utterly, leaving only that Nothingness which was before the Beginning.’
We should approach, entertain, and intertwine with ideas that conflict with ones we hold tightly. Not just ideas, but we should approach people in kind. What is worse than an echo-chamber, or the yes man? Iron sharpens iron. Crowley also encourages in several areas the exploration of a subject by indulging in its opposite end therefor coming to understanding of it by proxy. When approached by, or in the encounter of a King, fear not that your questioning them to death will leave them lifeless. Is their Crown not fixed upon their head? Be upon them, master!
ITF? wrote, ‘It stops short of saying that initiation and “lifting oneself up” is impossible, but it is nonetheless implied that everyone is bound to their fate forever. That change is impossible. The injunction that one can only discover other’s status, or class, by trying to take them down is very revealing of the warped mind that spawned this book. It absolutely makes sense in the context of Crowley’s life, however it is hardly universal at all.’
Nowhere does it say to obtain a class by taking that class down – it says explicitly before that the Kings of the earth shall be kings forever. Kingship is not a role, but an Understanding. Nor is it speaking on determinism and fate, other than that we are all fated or condemned to death, and there is no way of knowing what is beyond, or having a certainty of such so rather than the old aeon death-worship, we put no faith in an afterlife, but look to experience bliss and pleasure in life present. This calls to question what is the present? If your station in life is unfavourable, is it truly, or are you clinging to misery? Are you simply in denial of what, or who you are? Deem not of change, ye shall be as ye are. Yet Thelema tells us that change is stability, all is change, what change are we going through, what change do we take ourselves through by volition of Will?
Crowley even explains in his initiation how he had hindered himself, calling himself in the position of but a beggar, writing: ‘My passion for personal freedom, my superiority to sexual impulses, my resolve to master physical fear and weakness, my contempt for other people’s opinions, my poetic genius: I indulged all these to the full. None of them carried me too far, ousted the other, or injured my general well-being. On the contrary, each automatically reached its natural limit, and each has been incalculably useful to me in doing my Will when I became aware of it, able to organize its armies, and to direct them intelligently against the inertia of ignorance. But I suppressed certain impulses in myself. I abandoned my ambitions to be a diplomatist. I checked my ardour for Science. I trampled upon my prudence in financial matters. I mortified my fastidiousness about caste. I masked my shyness in bravado, and tried to kill it by ostentatious eccentricity. This last mistake came from sheer panic; but all the rest were quite deliberate sacrifices on the altar of my God Magick.’
And continuing, ‘For, today, if I were an Ambassador, versed profoundly in Science, financially armed and socially stainless, I should be able to execute my Will by pressure upon all classes of powerful people, to make this comment carry conviction to thinkers, and to publish the Book of the Law in every part of the world. Instead, I am exiled and suspected, despised by men of science, ostracized by my class, and a beggar. If I were in my teens again! I cannot change my mind about which ridge I’ll climb the mountain by, now when I see, above these ice-glazed pinnacles storm-swept, through gashes torn from whirling wreaths of arrowy sleet, the cloud-surpassing summit, not far, not very far.’
This is the point in ITF? where I think there is legitimacy to what is being questioned, but also do not shy away from entertaining thoughts, and can somewhat see what Crowley was saying in the uttering of what follows. ITF? looks at Crowley’s comment on II:58 where Crowley reveals that ‘Men should not be taught to read and write unless they exhibit capacity or inclination. Compulsory education has aided nobody. It has imposed an unwarrantable constraint on the people it was intended to benefit; it has been asinine presumption on the part of the intellectuals to consider a smattering of mental acquirements of universal benefit. It is a form of sectarian bigotry.’
On the surface, it is a most ignorant remark. How would a toddler express interest in wanting to read, how few would do such a thing? Should we have illiterate children until they are moving about in the environment and need to acquire the skill of literacy as to make their way, or to interact most fittingly? I can’t take the remark seriously, so always took it as a philosophical thought experiment. There it does raise an interesting question, with what we are forced to learn through poorly structured mandatory education, and where should people have more agency with their development? Crowley brings up the concept of the dis-ease of thought (as in disease, but also unease) where someone ill-equipped to deal with the knowledge they are fed, are left impaired by the knowledge rather than incorporating it and improving their own or other’s lives. Think of the news media, how we are overwhelmed with information irrelevant to us, how rapid depression spreads as a result.
Though, perhaps Crowley was ignorant and truly made this remark in full sincerity. I can’t put it passed him, as the man was at times ignorant, racist, misogynistic, and many other terrible labels that could be hung upon him like Christmas ornaments. I don’t defend him in any way, and felt later in life the need to distance from Thelema due to the man, so I do have rapport with ITF? in this regard. I just felt it was approached in a manner here wholly ineffective, and aimed not to do anything but damage to those who have promoted and have grown from Thelema without having come to such conclusions.
ITF? goes on, quoting Crowley’s II:58 comment, ‘We should recognize the fact that the vast majority of human beings have no ambition in life beyond mere ease and animal happiness. We should allow these people to fulfill their destinies without interference. We should give every opportunity to the ambitious, and thereby establish a class of morally and intellectually superior men and women.’ Their remark upon it is, ‘Here Crowley equates the ambitions of the majority of humans with those of animals. It is, however, demonstrably false. Everyone, universally, wants to go beyond their everyday life; explore some form of art; travel. Expand their horizons. Learn. Build something new.’
I would point out that Thelema looked to establish the universal rules for this (see Liber OZ) which states man has the right to travel as he will, play as he will, create as he will, etc. It is also a tad silly to state that everyone is ambitious and wishes to go beyond their every day life (unless they truly are suffering), there are many content, and many who would be content if all their basic provisions were met (as in the ideal situation proposed by Crowley) as they understand resources are finite. Crowley goes on to state, that such people content with how things would be should be in a state lacking nothing. I confess, should my shelter be provided, should I have basic provisions of food and communication (phone, internet), and access to public transportation, I would be quite content in such a position and would seek out little. I also know of many who mock those who read, enjoy philosophy, or find fulfillment in the expression of music and art. The world is not uniform.
Though I need not conflate Crowley’s meaning or intent with my interpretation of pondering of his thoughts. Overall, they have little baring over what your common ‘Thelemite’ would believe or think. As demonstrated with my response to most of the essay, the ‘this is Fascist’ calls were met with evidence to the contrary, that the words pointed to attainment and mystical meandering. Crowley channelled the BoTL and demonstrated quite wonderfully how he took that short book and established with it a whole system and body of work. Using such a model, what is to prevent any of us from doing the same and devising our own system, our own means of attainment using Crowley’s markers and guidelines, and through comparative study with other traditions, see through them all? I believe that was Crowley’s aim.
The Third Chapter of the BoTL is indeed ugly, and to me often served as emphasis not to take the book without scrutiny and skepticism, implores through its existence a non-literal interpretation. Crowley believed some verses prophesied in it the loss of his children, and his comments on the third chapter are generally shallow, if not lazy. However, even then, Crowley provided mystical interpretation to many of the lines, and most Thelemites who had not read Crowley’s commentary surely devised their own.
ITF? says, ‘An uneasy intellect might think that the mystical context of its presentation means we can step beyond the surface meaning of what’s written. That is not so. Few people succeed, or even strive for mystical attainment, and so the surface meaning should be our first stop if we’re trying to determine a works impact on society.’
I would say here, that those who are not striving for mystical attainment, would look to actual philosophy for philosophy sake. Not many would turn to Crowley to craft their worldview or way of interfacing with the world, other than those perhaps who view it as an aesthetic, expression of art, or have fallen in the trap of wishing to command demons and are not going to be ardent students of the BoTL, but would rather find themselves holding the Goetia, etc. I hardly see how the BoTL would impact on society so negatively as to deserve this underhanded smear, for without the mystical framework with which the work was devised and for what ends its creator intended, it is but a silly book.
And when one attains to K&C of the HGA, of Samadhi, what then? Ye shall be as ye are.
“The joy of life consists in the exercise of one’s energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal.” – Aleister Crowley
ITF? after assessing the BoTL goes on to attack Crowley’s establishment of the OTO, which I shall refrain from comment on, as I have little knowledge or interest in the OTO. Though, they do bring up quite a number of good pointers that leave the OTO and Crowley’s organizing of it look little different than that of the NXIVM cult. I care not to defend it or its members.
In closing, if Thelema is a mystical system, as Zen, could it be adapted to any philosophical or moral doctrine, such as to anarchy or fascism? The answer will surely vary among each answer provided by each individual. Is Thelema intrinsically and factually fascist? Is spreading Thelema the promotion of fascism? The argument can, and apparently has been made, though how valid is it and does it stand to analysis? I would certainly not agree, though would encourage the healthiness of questioning, and the moving on from it, should Thelema offer nothing but pain and suffering to its student. If there are benefits to the study of Crowley’s work and Thelema (as I have found), I would feel that there are more effective means to pluck these profundities from the work, and to point towards more effective or supplementary study than to denounce the whole of it and yet still wish to stand upon it or claim a part of it as one’s makeup.
Zen Sex by Philip Toshio Sudo is a wonderful meditation on directing love to another, self-love, and surprisingly, the teaching of Zen. Published in 2000, I had purchased the book among a pile of other Zen texts (the actual writings of Zen Masters) when visiting a favourite used book store with my wife nineteen years later. I grabbed Zen Sex more for the expected novelty factor of it on the shelf, as I hadn’t expected to take much from its pages as I would with the other books I selected that day. It took a year for me to finally end up reading it, and I must say that I loved the experience, I loved the book, and I loved being wrong. As I laid in bed and read it from cover to cover in one sitting (or laying), I meditated as I flipped through each thoughtful page on Zen, life, and sex.
When I first saw the book, my ignorance expected the standard ‘self-help’ style writing that contains as much ‘Zen’ as the stone statue sold in Wal-Mart, or the calming blend of tea carrying that name, or even that album with the river on the cover featuring a silhouette of a woman in meditation. When I read the back blurb it mentioned Zen koans, and I then expected it to feature the writing of Zen Master Ikkyu, AKA Crazy Cloud. I wasn’t wrong there, Ikkyu’s verse is a thread throughout the book, but there was so much more than I expected, from quotes of Zen Masters such as Joshu, Hui-neng, and Hakuin, to references of scholars such as Joseph Campbell. These materials were not just slapped together, but examined, extrapolated upon, and then beautifully conveyed in eloquent, succinct wording.
Sex and death are intrinsically linked, this connection being brought up in a few chapters, but whilst reading, I was drifting in thoughts on life, both its frailty and beauty. This book offers so much more than its title or cover would convey, and may be one of the top books I’d suggest for someone who has expressed interest in getting started with the study of Zen in general. With the aforementioned Masters referenced and quoted, there would be plenty to investigate from here, along with some helpful pointers by Sudo of the quotes shared should the reader be unfamiliar and have their interest sparked.
Sudo’s writing and materials even gracefully elevated Ikkyu’s verse, which I had previously read years ago in a .PDF which simply put all of his poems together – and in that format, while I understood the reason for his prominence in the context of the tradition, I took little from his words. In the context of Zen Sex, Ikkyu’s prose opened up like a flower bathing in sunlight.
‘We appear as skeletons covered with skin, male and female, and lust after each other. When the breath expires, though, the skin ruptures, sex disappears, and there is no more high or low. Underneath the skin of the person we fondle and caress right now is nothing more than a bare set of bones. Think about it–high and low, young and old, male and female, all the same. . . This is how the world is. Those who have not grasped the world’s impermanence are astonished and terrified by such change. . . Free yourself from form and return to the original ground of being.’ – Ikkyu
Ikkyu is fascinating in the general context of Zen study, especially in contrast to the common image of chaste monks; he was open of homosexual encounters he had in his youth, and would write about masturbation and sex. While his writing consists of what often appears degenerate, brash and silly on the surface, to view it only as such would miss the wisdom and beauty in his words, and miss the meaning behind his penning them. Ikkyu’s red thread metaphor, our bloodline, examines the naturalness of our birth, the natural longing to embrace another, and the normalcy of sexual thought and act. To deny it in order to ‘act Zen’ is to delude oneself more than anything, it is to dissociate from who and what we are.
‘don’t hesitate get laid that’s wisdom sitting around chanting what crap’ – Ikkyu
I would highly recommend that anyone in a relationship, anyone looking to get into a relationship, or anyone wishing to have a more comprehensive view of life and love to read this book. I’ll surely be reading it again. Something that stuck with me that I wished to share when I had the idea of putting this post up was a quote from the author. Sudo wrote, ‘Familiar as our lover may be to us, we treat each night in the bedroom as special. We do not wait for a diagnosis of cancer to start savoring our lover’s kiss. We do it now. Should tomorrow come, we do it again.’
I was saddened when I googled the author’s name, but also struck more deeply by that passage, having to then sit with it a little. On April 2, 2001, Philip Toshio Sudo had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and passed away just two years after the publication of Zen Sex at the age of 41, leaving behind his wife, and three small children. Here is an interview with Sudo which shared a diary entry from the day of his diagnosis. I’ll end this post with the last lines of that entry.
‘Love will endure through those whom we have loved. Life is sorrowful, but to be lived in joy.‘ – Philip Toshio Sudo
For the past 4 years Zen Buddhism has taken over as my prominent system of study, and I often find myself in reflection on Thelema as it expedited my understanding and approach of the more sophisticated and/or esoteric aspects of Zen writings and poetry. The difference between the two systems (on the surface) is that Zen is meant to be understood, and therefor approached as the ‘sudden enlightenment’ school of Buddhism – it is the teaching of Buddhism which existed before the scriptures and the sayings, and before the physical birth of the Buddha; it is the understanding outside of the written word. This understanding was passed down through mind-to-mind transmission, which was in essence a Master accepting that their student eventually shared in the understanding. Sadly, Thelema didn’t progress much beyond the writings of Crowley, which is a great shame, as in comparison, Buddhist thinkers and writers span out, cross borders, and leave their lineages abundant new sayings, perspectives and texts to study, which allowed the fleshing out of ideas and concepts for easier comprehension, and a robust rich tradition appealing to all varieties of minds.
With Thelema, you can point out that Aleister Crowley taught that ‘Magick’ is not used in the woo woo sense of the word, but that every intended act, be it reaching for a doorknob, my writing this now, or even your reading this… every intended act is a magical act. The system has concepts such as pure will, and every student (for however long a student) of Thelema will know the axiom, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, love is the law, love under will.‘ This is pointing to a consistent practice of awareness, and elsewhere in the writings a student would come across the same matters that another would encounter in studying Zen, namely samadhi, non-duality, emptiness etc. However, Thelema suffers due to its lack of proper lineage, which is quite sad given its tender age. It has been kept alive for the most part by publishers, and academics who prattle about and pick apart this and that. Many online who claim an understanding of Thelema (that may be legitimate) could have read a few Crowley quotes, or a book or two and find resonance with the system, getting the gist of the teaching – in Buddhism, this is paralleled, where monks or students hear a single line of a sutra and attain an instant realization. In the Buddhist tradition this would be chocked up to having studied in a past life and having the realization in the current life as a fruit of those past life actions. One may understand Thelema and state so, though there would be sticklers of Passage X, or Book Y, and Academic Z’s work ready to dismiss them, but all of this is play fencing and intellectual posturing. Though to be fair, there is more than just understanding the teaching, there is the required cultivation of the Great Work. While there may be shared appreciation in Thelema for Crowley’s writing and teachings, there’s seldom a shared appreciation in shared understanding, and shared cultivation.
On the other hand, there are those who will claim magick is all about spirits, god forms, angels, demons, correspondences and rituals, though if asked to point out successful magicians of this craft, they’re likely to point at writers who regurgitated these matters and made a pretty penny in so doing. I’d compare them to one who offers a service crafting custom maps that lead to treasures, though when asked what treasures they’ve obtained from the pursuit, the map maker points to their padded bank account and their expensive jewellery, living off having successfully sold thousands of maps for a good fortune. Their misdirection would be funny, if it wasn’t also tragic. That Crowley contributed to the Goetia, and wrote about various rituals and evocations, unfortunately this is all some pin-point as their focus and this conceptualization of magic is then presented as the whole work of Thelema, when it couldn’t be farther from the truth. This deceptive image is what oozed out into the mainstream and will likely be what comes to the mind of another who hears of one’s interest in Crowley, or Thelema. I’m of the perspective that such rituals are black.
The Book of the Law states in Chapter 2, verse 6: “I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death.” The knowledge of death is awareness of impermanence. In Buddhism it is known as the doctrine of dependent origination. Knowing dependent origination, one maintains awareness in the present moment and consider their actions in the light of this understanding. In Buddhism there is the concept of ‘no-self’, which a part of the emptiness, non-dual transcendence doctrine (Prajñāpāramitā) which is echoed in Thelema. For example the Book of the Law states, ‘Nothing is a secret key of this law’ and ‘The Perfect and the Perfect are one Perfect and not two; nay, are none!’ This ties into dependent origination, which if unfamiliar, is that everything is empty of self because everything arises in dependence of another thing. Nothing, including yourself, myself, or any reader is independent because everything is dependent. Because everything arises in dependence of a cause, it is considered empty of self existence, as all is transient. With ‘the knowledge of death’ (nirvana), one can realize the root of their causality, of their current conditioning, and return back into the pure Nothing that they are. Put more beautifully in the Book of the Law, ‘Since I am Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof, do ye also thus. Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.’
To act as this ‘non-self’ and to act in accordance with the ‘dharma’ or flow of life, is called Wu Wei, or to be doing non-doing, or it is said that such one’s actions are done in samadhi. This classification of doing is usually attributed to the compassionate bodhisattva class (those who act in accordance with the dharma, who possess the three bodies of the buddha and who manifest the fruits of the triple gem; true speech, true thought, true action). This could be paralleled to the pure will of Thelema. Aleister Crowley wrote in The Stag Beetle that to transcend the sense of individuality, one can find union through love, and states that one should ‘Die daily’, even further providing the note that the Master is urging his pupils to practice samadhi every day. Again we can draw reference to a Zen Master, such as Bankei Yotaku’s teaching who wrote, ‘Die—then live day and night within the world. Once you’ve done this, then you can hold the world right in your hand!’
Back to sudden enlightenment! Zen was set up as the ‘sudden enlightenment’ school opposed to gradual enlightenment. This is mostly a theatrical division, but this matter of sudden and gradual enlightenment serves a greater purpose in dealing with the different minds that approach the system of Buddhism. Zen Master Zongmi explored various combinations and they can be usefully summed up as: (1) gradual cultivation followed by sudden enlightenment is like gradually chopping down a tree until it suddenly falls, (2) sudden cultivation followed by gradual enlightenment is like immediately discerning a target and then gradually learning how to hit it with an arrow, (3) gradual cultivation and gradual enlightenment is like ascending a tower with the vista expanding with each upward step, (4) sudden enlightenment and sudden cultivation is rare and depends upon gradual cultivation in a past life, and (5) sudden enlightenment followed by gradual cultivation is like an infant who is born with all their limbs, but must slowly learn how to use them.
Zen has the helpful pointer of the four elements (also found in Thelema) which the body is comprised of. Zen Master Chinul looked at sudden awakening and said that ‘when the ordinary man is deluded, he assumes the four great elements are his body and the false thoughts are his mind. He does not know that his own nature is the true dharma-body; [dharmakaya] he does not know that his numinous awareness is the true buddha. He looks for the buddha outside his mind. While he is thus wandering aimlessly, the entrance to the road might by chance be pointed out by a wise adviser. If in one thought he then follows back the light of his mind to its source and sees his own original nature, he will discover that the ground of this nature is innately free of defilement, and that he himself is originally endowed with the non-outflow wisdom-nature which is not a hair’s breadth different from that of all the buddhas. Hence it is called sudden awakening.‘ While this awakening takes place suddenly, habit-energies are extremely difficult to remove suddenly, so they must then continue to cultivate while relying on the awakening, which is why it’s called gradual cultivation.
Realizing however that ‘mind is Buddha’ (a common Zen saying) is pointing to the space element in the center of the four great elements, which is also represented by Vairocana Buddha. For reference, search out a mapping of the Five Conquerors, also known as the Five Wisdom Buddhas. The Book of the Law states, ‘I am unique & conqueror. I am not of the slaves that perish. Be they damned & dead! Amen. (This is of the 4: there is a fifth who is invisible, & therein am I as a babe in an egg.)‘ The five wisdom buddhas also represent the trikaya or three-body theory of buddhahood which will be examined in future posts. I bring them up here, as for sustenance, the trikaya relies on the triple gem; Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha which then enables the true speech, true thought and true actions.
In Zen one realizes their mind is the Buddha (enlightened), the Dharma 法 (translated as Law, for example: 法の書 is the Book of the Law) is the principle teaching which one takes refuge in to attain that realization, and the Sangha is the community who share in this understanding and from it spread the dharma and alleviate the suffering of others with their great work. As Crowley wrote in Berashith, ‘On mature consideration, therefore, I confidently and deliberately take my refuge in the Triple Gem.’ Unfortunately, Thelema’s sangha is… seemingly non-existent. Sure, there are forums of discord and arm flailing, and there is the Order, though it is in disarray and would be more aptly named the Disorder. There are arguments over who took up the mantle for Crowley, there is debate and discussion over who possesses the rightful robe and bowl, or should I say wand and chalice, there is finger pointing over whose lineage is legitimate or not… yet there is no fruitful demonstrations of anything beyond academic work, childish play, posturing, and incessant in-fighting. They all disqualify themselves from the conversation of authentic lineage as soon as they speak. This lineage question is not even that important either, as lineage and transmissions in traditions historically have not been legitimate, take much of the mind-to-mind transmission in the Asian Buddhist traditions, and with research you find many are fabrications. This was done for the schools to legitimize themselves to government, etc. Does this make their resulting understanding false? Does this turn the fruit rotten? Does it render its teachers and students fraudulent? When one erects a teaching that accords with the truth, they take up the dharma right where they are, and if they can demonstrate that they share in the Buddha’s understanding, they create from then on a legitimate lineage from where they stand. Is Aleister Crowley One? Can no one understand?
I stand firm in desiring the existence of a sudden enlightenment school of Thelema. My favourite style of Zen writing is the koan or case studies, they are, in my opinion, the epitome of the sudden enlightenment tradition. I look to forge my own Thelemic sangha online, where others can transmute the truths in Crowley’s teachings into unique koan style cases for easier promulgation and study. I’ve already initiated that work and will share my progress with its creation here. For example, please read the case of Initiation, also known as Ctenodiscus Crispatus. It utilizes a teaching of Aleister Crowley on the Great Work and initiation, he wrote ‘The uninitiated is a ‘Dark Star’, and the Great Work for him is to make his veils transparent by ‘purifying’ them.‘ Crowley states that one is innately perfect, or pure, but our complexes may muddy us. Zen Master Yangqi said to an assembly, ‘When body and mind are pure, objects are pure; when objects are pure, body and mind are pure. Do you know what I’m getting at? The coin that was lost in the river must be retrieved from the river.’ The Thelemic source material is ripe for the picking, and concepts such as the HGA (holy guardian angel), crossing the abyss, evocations and invocations, and the Thelemic Qabalah all could use an obliteration in a device as useful and effective as the koan.
May you find it accords with your will to participate, or at least read along. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the dharma law, love is the dharma law, love under will.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this verse from the discourses of Zen Master Wuyi Yuanlai,
‘The Masters of ancient times said: Bravely let go On the edge of the cliff. Throw yourself into the Abyss With decision and courage. You only revive after death. Verily, this is the Truth!’