Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
One of the intriguing things about being in a mystery school is that you’re … well, in a mystery school. A school, as in high school, or college. And the curriculum is about studying a mystery that’s behind your current idea of what you are.
Any mundane school has its own curriculum, because those who supervise the schools have determined that a certain range of information is necessary for students. They’re supposed to learn that knowledge, and be able to analyse it. And then to use what they’ve learned, not because Pythagoras’ theorem or the names of past Prime Ministers are things that are necessary in the workaday world, but because awareness of such matters means you grasp that the world is always wider and more complex than your personal interests.
I won’t try to defend the current educational system, which has widely documented deficiencies, but point out that if you want to use occultism or another spiritual methodology seriously, then starting from broad mundane knowledge is helpful. Sometimes in talks, I refer to Aleister Crowley’s career in the US during World War I, and realise that half my audience has no firm idea when that was (hint: 1914 to 1918) and hasn’t previously considered that knowing which countries were involved might be useful information. So, I’m talking into a partial vacuum. And while I need to sound like I know what I’m talking about, I also like listeners to have a frame of reference for themselves. We’ve all come out of shared history: it isn’t something that happened to a bunch of other people long ago. And all of current consciousness is influenced by historical changes, just as it’ll be influenced by new changes as the times move on.
There are two contradictory requirements for anyone applying to a mystery school. One, which ties into this educational paradigm, is having curiosity about everything: the origins of religions and mysticism, the ways in which human potential has expressed or stifled itself over time, what makes people tick deep down, whether there are other planes or states of existence … and so on.
The second requirement is an ability to use self-discipline. We need to grasp that any spiritual system is about education in the original sense of the word, which is leading us to fulfil our potential, not about stuffing us with facts. The schools exist to put us through a set of drawn-out experiences, each setting us up for the next, and each probably unwelcome at times. The one way in which most students become convinced magick is “real” stems from the contrary perspectives into which the training pulls us. As quaint and stuffy as the Golden Dawn system seems to some critics, like Alan Moore in his memorably scathing essay Fossil Angels, it actually does trigger a sequence of self-exploratory phases that help dissolve some of our inner walls and makes us better able to open to deep experience. But we must be able to stay the course.
As a corollary to this point, it needs to be understood that instruction in one area of magical activity (“I just want to learn Enochian magick, I don’t need the rest”) isn’t what a serious school offers. You pass through the whole course, start to finish, and have to accept that it’s a drawn-out process. You can’t re-structure yourself in six months.
The ultimate aim is simple even if the methods seem complex and Byzantine. Through initially stuffing students with rudimentary Hebrew, classic Hermetic notions, astrological ideas and Qabalistic symbolism, along with requiring systematic self-monitoring and self-examination, and moving on to actual magical training, we come to the point where this True Will business starts to become actual. We find how we’re aligned with a certain inner reality that ultimately overrules all our opinions, self-protective excuses and self-images, and that we’re inevitably going to live out that reality, over and above all that we usually think is right or desirable.
Thelema is ruthless. It doesn’t offer us frothy, light-filled perspectives on our own immortality, or put kindness and good vibes front and centre. Thelemites don’t generally consider it useful to sit around emanating compassion, even if that might serve a purpose in shifting or broadening the focus of consciousness at certain times.
This doesn’t, as Aleister Crowley often pointed out, mean we set out to be callous or indifferent. Increasing consciousness has nothing to do with becoming oblivious. Some new attitudes will just evolve, and others require conscious decision-making. But diverting attention from our own true task toward emotionally driven misunderstandings of that of others isn’t part of the job.
At the end of the day, an esoteric order isn’t looking for masses of recruits, nor political or economic power, because its structures are woefully ill-equipped for such things. It’s looking for people who can become adepts: individuals who can identify the functional core of their own nature, separate from any sense of grievance or anger, self-congratulation or private pain, and learn to live by that. Anyone approaching such a school as our own Temple needs to bear this in mind.
Just in case you thought otherwise.
Love is the law, love under will,
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.