Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
My talk in Toronto last weekend has been posted online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efCmWTPutl0 . I thought I’d summarise key points from it, since I took over an hour to expound on it, and some people might appreciate having the germ of it in a three-minute read.
Thelema posits a series of Aeons, with names derived from the Egyptian myth of Isis, Osiris and Horus, and which in broad terms can be described as evolutionary phases in human consciousness. Since the delivery of The Book of the Law in 1904, we have been in the Aeon of Horus, the Child.
The first Aeon, with its beginnings before recorded history, was that of Isis, the Mother. In this, the basic animal nature, embodied in what Qabalists call the Nephesh, was the dominant aspect of human psychology and consciousness. The usual translation of Nephesh is ‘animal or vital soul,’ since it comprises the instincts and survival-based patterns in the mind. It’s the part of the consciousness closest to the physical body, and is involved closely with its functions.
But in this Aeon, there was a constant aspiration, at least among the spiritual elite, towards rational consciousness and the use of reason to attain both the blessings of the gods and the improvement of living standards. The psycho-spiritual function that performs such work is called the Ruach (ROO-Arkh), and it can be equated to the self-conscious self, or the Ego, in the original meaning of that word before it became more or less an insult.
Thus, as the Aeon progressed, we saw the Ruach’s inspiration producing agriculture, writing, brick houses and stone ones, temples, metals smelting … and so on. The Nephesh formed the quotidian level for the masses, with the aspirants, the seekers and genuine leaders, pushing the envelope with the Ruach.
On the Tree of Life diagram, the lowest sphere, Malkuth (the Kingdom) embodies the Nephesh. The Ruach, however, includes six sephiroth, from Chesed (Mercy or Compassion) down to Yesod (the Foundation). This last sephirah is closely related to the Nephesh, embracing some of its more complex functions, while Chesed and Geburah higher up are much closer to the supernal consciousness of the top three sephiroth of the Tree. So, the Ruach comprises a continuum of states of awareness and comprehension, all of which contribute to the sense of selfhood in different ways. Chesed is related to memory, Geburah to volition, Tiphereth to imagination, and so on.
The German philosopher Karl Jaspers suggested that the time from 800 to 200 BCE should be called the Axial Age. In this period, a certain set of ideas, possibly originating in or near today’s Iran, emerged that related to the individual spiritual worth of each person. There were notions of the unity of Godhead (or its complete denial in Buddhism) as opposed to there being many separate gods, and notions of harmony or correspondence between the divine world and the human one, which were propagated from eastern Asia through to the Mediterranean and beyond.
These notions helped propel Ruach-consciousness to supremacy. Where before Nephesh had been the quotidian level of the mind, Ruach gradually displaced it. Jaspers’ Axial Age marks the emergence of the Aeon of Osiris, the Father.
But beyond Ruach is Neshamah, supernal consciousness. The Axial Age was predicated on a bunch of notions about redeemer Gods who were really fantastic fellas if you made it through all the barriers between yourself and them, but prior to that attainment tended to be forbidding or dark, and very demanding. Awareness of Neshamah produces this sense of something heavy or powerful or awe-inspiring ‘Up There.’
And this is how the Aeon of Osiris went. Exploration of Ruach was the keynote, but always ahead, a few prayers away, was Neshamic consciousness. Thus there were developments such as the Reformation in Europe, which replaced the supremacy of the Roman Church with individual conscience: a Ruach function inspired by Neshamah and the hope or expectation of salvation and eternal life, replaced church authority in many places.
Eventually, many people developed Ruachic awareness to the point that they denied any gods or God existed, recognising the human mind’s tendency to dramatise and personalise the impersonal – or the transpersonal. Though that came about as the Aeon was ending, not at its height.
You could argue that first stirrings of the Aeon of Horus, the Child, began at the time of the western Enlightenment in the late 1700s. In Thelema, we conventionally accept the giving of our Book in April 1904 as the ‘official’ start point.
You can see how it goes now. We are moving into an Aeon of superconsciousness. This is not the same thing as “the Age of Aquarius” or anything that cosy. A truly Light-filled transformative power will scorch us and change pretty much everything. The Child of this Aeon, described in The Book of the Law as “eternally borning,” is relentless, and won’t let up. This force, this archetype, doesn’t want repentance, sorrow, self-denial (other than for a specific, practical aim) or any kind of delusory belief system, except as may serve along the way to a more deeply reality-based one.
We see the initial emergence of this superconsciousness in our growing grasp of psychology and neurobiology, of quantum physics, of astronomy … all the things that take us past our traditional comfort zones and point to a different type of future. We see it in the breakdown of the old world order and the lack of any real new world order, despite all the popular fantasies about one. A child is not afraid to explore, and in this Aeon of the Child, the unknown is that which is desired, and change is that which is constant.
If Ruach was the inspiring or guiding principle in the time of Isis, and Neshamah the one for the time of Osiris, what do we have now?
Within Neshamah are two concentric subdivisions. The ultimate one is Yechidah, the inmost essence of individuality, similar to the Hindu notion of Ishvara. Its most immediate manifestation is called Chiah, usually translated as “Life,” but referring to the life-force or, as we say in Thelema, the True Will, and it’s Chiah that is experienced progressively as Neshamic consciousness unfurls.
We have our watch-phrase, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. These eleven words from The Book of the Law tells us where to look for guidance in this Aeon, as we move, by means and events, shifts and transformations that boggle the mind, towards the realisation of Neshamic consciousness and whatever future steps humanity’s course unveils.
Love is the law, love under will.