July 31, 2015 TOLS

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,

Edward Mason

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Comments (4)

  1. Los

    Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

    Thelemites who tell me they’re atheists have always confused me.

    As an atheist, I perhaps can clear up some of the confusion.

    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.

    But it doesn’t imply the existence of a god.

    At the outset, you seem to be assuming that there’s a conflict between (1) lacking a belief in gods (atheism) and (2) acknowledging that there are more accurate – or at least different – ways of viewing reality (ways in which we see that what we normally call the “self” is not actually the self). But this assumption is wrong: no such conflict exists.

    deciding on belief in (X) – or absolute disbelief – is a severe barrier to growth.

    I agree that any beliefs held absolutely are problematic (partially because I see all beliefs as tentative and because I see no reason to think that absolute knowledge is even possible). But no atheist I’ve ever known has believed absolutely that no gods exist. So far as I’m aware, nearlly all atheists are simply unconvinced that any gods exist – because there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that gods exist.

    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.

    I’ve read this sentence several times, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what you’re trying to say. I’m unsure what “transient ideas” you’re referring to (perhaps the idea from the previous paragraph that godforms emerge from some vaguely defined “energy”?), and I’m similarly unsure how you think the absence of these ideas would hinder anyone from carrying out the True Will.

    From a Thelemic perspective, this sentence would seem to be a central point of your argument – after all, if you’re actually identifying something without which there are no means of effectively performing the True Will, then you’re making a major and critical pronouncement about Thelemic practice. But the sentence falls flat because it’s unclear what you’re trying to say.

    Could you rephrase? You seem to be saying that holding some set of ideas (about gods?) is necessary for performing the True Will. I’d be curious to hear what you think those ideas are and why because I am unconvinced that any ideas about gods are necessary for discovering and carrying out the True Will.

    Love is the law, love under will.

    Best,
    Los

  2. TOLS

    Los, 93,
    Thanks for the comment.
    It might well be our different perspectives stem solely from different personality patterns. I certainly have friends who identify more with your viewpoint than mine. But it seems to me a violation of the basics of Thelema to take on somebody else’s perspective, when a naturally arising one gets the job done better. Pushing an intellectual position that doesn’t fit easily – in my case atheism or agnosticism – works against realisation of my True Will.
    I do refer above to ‘strict construction atheism.’ I have encountered people who insist, perhaps as a psychological stance more than an actual, thought-out position, that there ain’t Nothin’, No-how, and No-way. Then there’s the less rigid view that it really wouldn’t matter whether or not there is a Big G up there, out there, or hiding in some para-quantum meta-dimension, given our smallness and Its bigness; we have sufficient tools in our own minds and intellects to handle whatever we need to.
    Your re-definition above is, I feel, agnosticism rather than strict construction atheism. As an intellectual stance, I’m tempted to concur with it. But in living via all the different facets of my own being, which are all aspects of my True Will, I find that taking my conscious self as the critical reference point doesn’t cut it.
    In probing this composite entity that is Me, there appear to be consistently operating forces within my psyche that have a direction, vector or intention of some kind that is wholly beyond my ability to fathom in its entirety, and that do not at all coincide with my conscious desires, decisions, acts or even thoughts.
    This is where I stumble over the atheistic doorstep. My reason has done far worse than this über-self in organising my life. The most interesting, productive, hilarious or otherwise rich experiences of my life have come from outside of my own interventions, and very rarely as a result of them. Rather than trying to incorporate said über-self in my life, I have done best when I let it incorporate me. And I realise that phrase may make no sense to someone who is better satisfied working with reason and outer consciousness, but my experience of it is like that.
    Apart from six decades of human memories and my magical diaries, which are necessarily subjective records, I don’t have an analysis of desirable/undesirable events to back this up empirically. I’ve simply concluded that conceding it’s in charge, rather than the dubious mish-mash persona ‘Edward,’ makes living less stressful or painful.
    Whereas, placing intellectual obstructions into the situation gains me little, except on the small scale. This might be solely a function of my own character, deriving from the usual genetic, environmental and experiential culprits. But allowing the über-self to assume the place where a theist would put his/her God creates an opening to an expansiveness that yields useful insights and ideas. In other words, yes – it does enable me to identify with True Will, whereas ratiocination has not, except in lesser or mundane specifics. In fact, my efforts during a couple of decades of my life to live by reason have been horribly dull.
    I agree my use of ‘transient ideas’ was not helpful phrasing. But the über-self has not shown itself to be consistent in the way the Gospels promise their Saviour to be, so I find the experience of it to be transient, if recurring.

    93 93/93,
    Edward Mason

  3. Los

    I’m going to re-order your points for convenience:

    In probing this composite entity that is Me, there appear to be consistently operating forces within my psyche that have a direction, vector or intention of some kind that is wholly beyond my ability to fathom in its entirety, and that do not at all coincide with my conscious desires, decisions, acts or even thoughts.

    It sounds like what you’re vaguely describing here is the Thelemic concept of True Self: one’s actual self, whose dynamic aspect is called the “True Will” (and I suppose that by “uber-self” elsewhere in your post, you mean this idea of True Self?). Nothing about this concept implies the existence of gods.

    Thelema teaches that most people mistake their conscious mind for this True Self, but in fact the True Self (and thus the True Will) underlies the mind. Thelemic practice consists in learning to pay attention to the actual Self, to shift one’s attention away from the thoughts and emotions of the conscious mind – which distract us and fool us into thinking that they are the Self – and onto the actual Self.

    To the extent that you’re talking about the True Self, I agree with you. And indeed, the True Self is beyond our ability to fathom rationally. Reason is a tool for navigating the world, but it is incapable of fully conceiving the Self or allowing the individual to discover the True Will.

    I get the impression that you’re misunderstanding my position: I’m not claiming that discovering the True Will is a rational process. It’s not. One cannot “think your way” to the True Will.

    But as I said in my post above, nothing about the idea of the True Self implies the existence of a god of any sort.

    This is where I stumble over the atheistic doorstep. My reason has done far worse than this über-self in organising my life.

    I think you have mistakenly conflated atheism with the belief that one should use reason to direct one’s life.

    But I’m pretty sure that most atheists, if you sat down and talked to them, would agree with you that reason should not be used to direct a person’s life in the sense that you seem to be implying here. For example, most atheists I know strongly value spending time with their families. However, they did not arrive at this value by means of reason. We *discover* our values; we don’t think our way to them.

    However, there’s an important Thelemic point to make here. Even though people don’t reason their way to their values, they often confuse the contents of their conscious minds for their authentic inclinations. For example, people might get it in their heads that it’s good to help the homeless, so they might decide to volunteer at a charity – not out of authentic inclination but because they think it’s the “right thing to do.”

    The word “because” is key here. Most people run their lives by unspoken “because” thoughts in their minds. They do X because they think a “good person” should do X. They stay away from Y because they think “bad people” do Y.

    Hence, Liber AL condemns “Because” and reason: when misapplied, reason leads people away from their actual inclinations, their True Will. When we read the passages in AL in context, the condemnation of reason is not a condemnation of using the rational faculties to figure out facts: it’s a condemnation of substituting the rational faculty for the True Will.

    The only way to combat “Because” is to train one’s reason to detect when reason is leading us astray. This is a fundamental part of Thelemic practice.

    allowing the über-self to assume the place where a theist would put his/her God creates an opening to an expansiveness that yields useful insights and ideas. In other words, yes – it does enable me to identify with True Will
    .
    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “assume the place where a theist would put his/her God.” A theist generally believes “God” is a separate, supernatural intelligence that has created the world, established some kind of moral law, and acts as an arbiter of human behavior in some fashion.

    Assuming that you don’t think your True Self has any of those qualities, I can only guess that what you mean to say is that you think your True Self is of paramount importance in your life, in the same way that a god would be of paramount importance to a true believer.

    If I’m guessing correctly, I don’t see how that actually makes you a theist. I mean, I know people who allow baseball to assume the place where a theist would put his/her God, but I wouldn’t call them theists in anything but the most figurative, tongue-in-cheek sense.

    In other words, it doesn’t sound at all like you’re a theist, and I think it’s kind of confusing to insist on calling yourself one.

    Pushing an intellectual position that doesn’t fit easily – in my case atheism or agnosticism – works against realisation of my True Will.

    The question of whether or not there’s sufficient evidence to think that gods exist is a factual question about reality that has an objective answer. In the same way, the question of whether or not there’s sufficient evidence to think that Bigfoot exists is a factual question about reality that has an objective answer.

    So far as I can tell, it’s objectively the case that the evidence for the existence of gods is woefully lacking. If you have some evidence to the contrary, I’d be open to hearing it, but as it stands, that’s my position on what the facts of the matter are.

    I fail to see how learning more about the objective facts about reality could possibly hinder anybody’s realization of the True Will.

  4. TOLS

    Los, 93,

    Getting back to this … Firstly, my apologies for not checking the site earlier, and approving your comment out of the dreck of spam comments promoting knock-off fashion goods. It’s been a crazy month, plus the dog ate my homework, etc.
    I never use the term True Self. Crowley’s choice of the phrase Holy Guardian Angel, and his deliberate, lifelong avoidance of a definition of such a thing, was chosen deliberately to fog the idea of selfhood. I quote his commentary on Liber LXV, I, v. 60:
    “The ecstasy of the relation between the Adept and his Angel disperses “normal” thoughts; the Ego fears to lose control of the course of the mind. This (of course) occurs in a less real sphere, that of normal consciousness. The Ego is justly apprehensive, for this ecstasy will lead to a situation when its annihilation will be decreed so that the Adept may cross the Abyss and become a Master of the Temple. Remember that the Ego is not really the centre and crown of the individual; indeed the whole trouble arises from its false claim to be so.”
    You make almost the same point in your comment. At the end, there’s Nothing. But along the way, there are many Things.
    I have no firm opinion either way about the objective existence of God. My point is that certain things are experienced as being ‘kinda like God’ or ‘a presence that overwhelms any sense of me.’ I accept such perceptions as provisional, as is all perception within an initiatory process. We have to accept the reality that is presented to us, and for me, there is this kind-sorta-God (KSG) that I’ve encountered throughout my adult life. It’s a psychospiritual reality that constitutes little or no evidence of the actuality of a Creator, Ruler of the Cosmos or Judge of All Humanity.
    It does, however, seem to be an expression of a deep-rooted and effective force or tendency or overarching-and-overruling … Something-or-other that governs my life, or at the very least influences its key directions and actions. HGA is as good a term to use as any, especially given that Crowley chose that phrase because he thought it too absurd to be taken literally. That was false optimism on his part, but that’s tangential to this topic.
    I would never argue that learning more about the facts of one’s reality is any kind of obstruction to realising the True Will. I agree that it’s essential, as is honesty about what we discover. I flinch from the weighted word ‘objective,’ never having achieved objectivity in this life without attitudinal, cultural and other subjective factors seeming to be factors in my attempts at objectifying. All I encounter is a gradual stripping away of layers of veils.
    I’ve never discovered any technique that permits that stripping away to be done from a wholly empirical and objective standpoint, so I no longer try to find one. The most interesting things – discoveries, realisations, the taking of new directions in life – have come out of what I take to be this internal kinda-sorta-God’s subtler machinations. And since I have never identified an Archimedean point exterior to my own mind whereby I can effectively outwit it, I have to take it as the Director in this particular life-movie “I’ appear to be living.
    You wrote: “I can only guess that what you mean to say is that you think your True Self is of paramount importance in your life, in the same way that a god would be of paramount importance to a true believer.”
    Pretty much. I find theism to be a more effective methodology than hardline atheism – or casually indifferent skepticism. It includes the emotional and the non-rational as well as what I often feel to be the false or overrated constructs of my rational side. Any sense of growth in my own life has come from accepting the KSG as Da Boss.

    93 93/93,
    Edward Mason

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