Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Thelemites who tell me they’re atheists have always confused me. The whole business of seeing a ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ as the essential source of our existence implies, at the least, a wiser and more life-encompassing level of reality than our everyday selves embody.
Yes, at various points in his writings Aleister Crowley affirmed an atheistic stance, or a belief that the ultimate level of reality amounts to absolute Zero. Equally, he devoted many years to communicating with higher levels or planes or existence, and wrote extensively on devotional practices, producing writings such as Liber Astarte. And he is concerned with far more, in such instances, than solely personifying utter cosmic nothingness as the goddess Nuit. The Third Chapter of the Book of the Law makes no sense, and has no relevance, if we insist it’s about either a fantasy or an inflated version of our own ego.
The other side of the atheism coin, of course, is convinced faith. Many people who are otherwise Thelemic in approach and lifestyle flinch from reducing a treasured image of cosmic or compassionate truth to … well, just an image, with all the deception and delusion implied therein. Exoteric believers aside, there are many magicians who have, we might say, ‘logged in’ to a particular archetype, such as Christ or Hermes or a goddess-figure, and refuse and argue against all subsequent psycho-software updates.
Mystery, Crowley said, is the enemy of truth. Equally, we can say that conviction is its enemy, too. The whole process of working the Mysteries is one of pulling rugs out from beneath our own psycho-spiritual feet, one after the other. Thus, deciding on belief in (X) – or absolute disbelief – is a severe barrier to growth. We’re required, in our progress, to develop a split or bi-level perspective whereby we acknowledge that there is Something greater/wilder/smarter/more potent than we are; and at the same time to be prepared to lose that conception of things, or its current version, completely, when it’s served its purpose.
There is a partial resolution of the confusion of this paradox arising from seeing through any given form and realising it’s yet one more manifestation of energy. But in time, the mundane ego-self, which likes to formalise everything so it can have reflections of its own assumed identity all around it, will constantly pull such perceptions or intimations of motile forces into some kind of form-based concept. Believing in a cosmic fluxion, or an eternally evolving Fire or whatever notion we fasten onto, is just the same old belief game played at a slightly subtler level. ‘Form,’ or formulating, doesn’t require ‘shape.’
Yet if we don’t allow ourselves to keep such transient ideas in our magical back-pockets, we equally end up in a chaotic condition where we have no usable points of traction, and thus no means of effectively performing our True Will. If as occultists we view human existence as a huge-scale neurosis, we might come close to the required conditions, since we’ll at least be trying, through our magical and mystical practices, to maintain stability amid the conflicting urges and counter-urges; and also we’ll be providing ourselves with the means to resolve or manage some of the mind-choking paradoxes that come from living as spiritual beings in a seemingly mad world.
Strict-construction atheism, while it ostensibly affirms non-belief, is in fact just another level of hard-core conviction: it’s a statement that says, “I know the essential truth because I am already at a stage where I can know it.” Which pre-empts our further growth, or at best precipitates a drawn-out argument with ourselves as the HGA gradually pushes different perspectives on us.
We’re far better off if we affirm, at least, our desire to learn, regardless of our present state belief, non-belief, or simple doubt. Our ability to shift perspectives is what differentiates us a species – or at least, it does for those who believe being human is about evolving. This in turn offers a possible view of the verse in Liber AL, I, v 58: “certainty, not faith, while in life.” The certainty then lies not in our ‘knowing’ about ultimate matters, but in belief in our continuing ability to re-learn and re-educate ourselves.
Love is the law, love under will,