Meditating on Agape and Thelema

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.’