I have been reading archived French papers from the early to mid 1900s, and I came across an image of Aleister Crowley which hasn’t been seen by many. It doesn’t appear to have been isolated from the article and/or posted to the internet before, so I have corrected that by creating the following:
Clinging to Thelema
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.
In Response to ‘Is Thelema Fascist?’
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.’
BoTL I: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!’
BoTL I.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.
Sudden Enlightenment and Thelema
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!’
Don’t Be Boaring
It is a challenge to get back into the flow of things when you have spent so long in cessation. I used to pride myself on my drive to post frequent articles on this website, when I took to overthinking what I was writing and got caught up in wishing to deliver a message to an audience that I couldn’t quite fathom or figure out through the mist and phantoms of my mind. Frustrations settled in so I took pause… that pause turned into a stop. Days, weeks, months, and then years went by without striving to break through that mental block, without the ability to get back on that proverbial horse.
Finally, Covid-19 hit, I found myself at home and with ample time to re-enter the stream, though a few obstacles were inflated as to provide a reason to remain in stasis. For example, the old template I had made required each article or post to have a large header image, which I had fun designing, but to save money during this pandemic I had cancelled my Adobe subscription thus losing the means to create visually appetizing works. I finally changed the site layout to one that wouldn’t require images, and told myself not to stress so much about the text material being placed on the website… I mean, I have been paying for it all these years, would I want to resume in watching days go by and have the site sitting idle, nothing but a costly waste? It was silliness. I was being silly. If someone wishes to read these posts, they will. If I am writing to myself, well, I can use this as a record book of thoughts and ideas and draw upon it for future projects. There is no harm in putting these words here.
When in that lazy apathetic mode, I find life can slip away and days feel like they wash over in an instant. You arise, eat, do something, do another thing, eat again and then it’s nightfall, you feel unaccomplished and push those feelings down, or shut them off in mind pacification or indulgent entertainment. Writing used to be my daily ritual, and I’d like to get back to it, or something close to it at least. With such structure in place the rest of my actions fall into a sorting system where they are enacted based on requirement, situation and want, though all are enacted with greater intent. Gone is the lackadaisical pissing about.
“What’s the harm in doing nothing? It’s good to get rest.” Sure, when tired, rest! Though when tired of being bored… do something with intent, and do it often. I recently read a Buddhist story on this matter of intention. It was about a monk up in the mountains who happened to be wandering about his property. Mindlessly, he picked up a rock and threw it over a fence, unaware that out of sight the rock would make an impact with the skull of a bird as it hopped through the grass. It was killed on the spot, unbeknownst to the monk. If unfamiliar with the story, you may now beginning to think that the monk later discovered the birdie corpse, predictably giving it then a burial and repenting for his actions, even reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha chanting ‘Namu Amida Butsu’ (nianfo) but no! The bird was reborn as a boar, and a long while later, the boar ascended that very mountain, and while mindlessly wandering about it had knocked a boulder loose. The boulder rolled off a cliff-edge, falling upon the monk’s hut, resulting in one crushed, dead monk.
While I’d hope that my being boring with the mindless couch dwelling, snacking, thumb twiddling and days in a daze wouldn’t karmically produce a Buddhist Final Destination moment, I’d rather play it safe than sorry and consider all my actions, remain mindful in their doing, and ensure there is intent in all of my manifestation. That is afterall, the key to magic!
“Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” – Aleister Crowley.