In Thelema there are two primary focuses for practitioners; those being Knowledge and Conversation, and True Will. These concepts in attainment being the meat and bones of the system of Thelema sometimes leaves people debating whether or not it is a religion. A large portion of this controversy arises from the question of faith. What is the involvement of faith in Thelema?
Within one of my earlier articles I placed a quote from Søren Kierkegaard which stated that “Language, the word, is precisely what saves”, and that “[…]language does indeed imply communication” (I imply here conversation). In another article I wrote of Hypnosis and the origins of Kabbalah, and at the end provided a relevant quote from the 19th century French magician Éliphas Lévi from his book Paradoxes of the Highest Science in which he wrote: “To believe without knowing is to be a fool ; to know without believing is to be a mad man. True Knowledge brings with it faith.”
If true knowledge were to bring with it faith – why is there a question of faiths place in Thelema? Perhaps Thelemites remove themselves from the notion of faith given that one of the more frequently quoted passages of Aleister Crowley is: “I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening; I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.” That passage being from the Book of Lies of course wherein Crowley provides a complimentary page of commentary which states: “we see how scepticism keeps the mind fresh, whereas faith dies in the very sleep that it induces.“
Thelema being of the new Aeon, leaving behind the dogma and faith of old religions. A position of skepticism is donned leaving one best suited to integrate into their environment as to be open to accept, and create change. As Crowley taught: “The Universe is Change: every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy.”
Every action an individual does intently or deliberately will convince them of a truth, and instill a degree of belief. What we believe we generally consider knowledge. Faith on the other hand, by it’s very definition is putting complete trust and confidence in someone, or something; such as for example, a belief in God. Opposite to what Lévi says with his remark on true knowledge bringing faith, faith requires no knowledge, no proof – only absolute belief. Belief is acquired by means of feeling. In life where we find ourselves in a situation where we were led astray by emotions we may find ourselves justifying our actions, or our words with a blind sense of rightness, and with prejudice we may be defending ourselves with logical fallacies.
“Beliefs are felt thoughts, and they lead to action. The impulse to action is always there in virtue of the existence of skeletal muscles. They constitute an imbalance and an irritation, a painful dispositional state. Equilibrium can be restored only by the appropriate action. Thus decisions are relief mechanisms designed to facilitate the evacuation of surplus emotional content. There is, in short, a need to act; based on belief and triggered by the will, the muscles respond by effecting environmental changes. These in turn react back on the body of beliefs.” – James K. Feibleman, From Hegel To Terrorism and Other Essays on the Dynamic Nature of Philosophy.
When it comes to faith and Thelema, it’s not a matter of putting faith in a God or Goddess, or a pantheon of Gods, nor is it firmly believing in visions, or in concepts. Nay, “Success is your proof” says the Book of the Law. Thelemites do not hold blind faith – they have faith in their tools; the methods which makes our magic work. Thelema after all touts a tenet of ‘The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion’.
If you’ve read my previous articles I may seem a broken record, but again I wish to bring to mind the Polyphony of Thought; that we have thought which appears in the form of words, and then thought which has not yet developed into words and appears as impressions/images and is known as ‘feeling thought’. From my Right Way to Read the Book of the Law? post I put several quotes highlighting the connection between understanding and feeling, for example: “[…]we must become knowers through feeling” – Richard Wagner, Opera and Drama.
I’ve also alluded to Binah = Understanding, being feeling thought, and then of course Chokmah = Wisdom being words.
Drawing back on the quote from Levi in regards to magic. He stated to practice magic is to be a quack, to know magic is to be a sage. “To believe without knowing is to be a fool” – to accept an understanding or belief without any knowledge or direct experience is to be foolish. “To know without believing is to be a mad man.” – To have an understanding of concepts, theories, or methods, and to deny them; or worse, in the case of magic ritual to enact without belief/immersion in the motions is to be acting mad. As Crowley stated, “Every intended act is a magical act”.
When it comes to Thelema and the paradoxical science that is the study of occultism we know that True Knowledge brings with it faith. Though that faith is in the core structure of a system comprised of skepticism, investigation, exploration, acceptance, and the methods of causing change in accordance with Will. Faith is a requirement in Thelema.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, love is the law, love under Will.