Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
To some extent, Crowley’s discovery of yoga parallels the use of depth psychology in most mystery schools today. Used discerningly, psychological insight helps us bring the mind to quietude, which is also the aim with yoga: after all, Patanjali’s principal definition of yoga was translated as “the hindering of the modifications of the thinking principle.” That awkward statement (or awkward translation of it) was more succinctly summed up by Crowley as “Sit still. Shut up. Get out!”
Often, Jung is the person most misquoted in attacks on introducing psychological perspectives to magick. Apologists sometimes finger Aniela Jaffe as the person who tried to draw too many fixed ideas out of her teacher’s constantly evolving thinking, but whoever was responsible, the notion that Jung redefined all spiritual experiences as mental phenomena is sadly prevalent today. The discussion can become contentious, with some magicians rejecting depth psychology as having any role in esotericism. Yet many teachers ask students to address their own propensities, resistances and other ego-centred needs in the early phases. Focusing on hostile projections and examining the areas where we mount a spirited defence of our attitudes does offer a means of quietening the mind, just as it helps in our mundane lives to address underlying fears and or unhappiness that we build fences around. As with yoga, when the machinery of the mind is brought to a point where thoughts arising lose their usual force or weight, so some psychological self-knowledge helps us avoid making ourselves too absurd when we’re close to a critical but difficult insight.
Also, when we do finally begin practical invocation, a key indicator of success lies in discovering the autonomy of the beings we’re calling. We’re not writing the script. And the lingering bugbear of the magician being possessed by what he’s called up has roots in the fact that our unaddressed issues provide a weakness in our defences. That which we never acknowledge is the chink in our armour that a hostile entity can exploit.
Buddhism teaches that as we progress, we come to the realisation that Emptiness is the essential fact of being. Perhaps, but I’ve always had the impression from my own experiences that the forms of our comprehension are what’s dissolved, not the energies they express. “There is that which remains,” as the Book of the Law says (II, v. 9). The energy is still there to be experienced, but the labels we use as its forms don’t endure.
And this is where we start to cross into the strange territory where a few poets and mystics might have evoked the landscape, but regular descriptions fall flat.
Last year, I wrote a post I called Late-stage True Will, in which I tried addressing the changes coming over me as I approached seventy. I’d long known that magical work activates a level of consciousness that subverts our favourite beliefs and convictions, but I was finding that what was emerging was more confusing than any incremental changes I’d noted before. I wasn’t sure if it was simply mental decline, or whether a shifting alchemical process was involved. The fact that my short-term memory wasn’t as good didn’t encourage me, but at the same time all the inner promptings told me to hang in. I’m still a bit in that mid-ground, but with more certainty that a valid process is under way.
Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections is a somewhat massaged memoir, but it has its gems. I never found its very last pages convincing until recently, when I felt I was beginning to see what he’d found. He wrote:
“…. There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite convictions – not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation of something I do not know. In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidity underlying all existence and a continuity in my mode of being.
“The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time of divine beauty. Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning, is a matter of temperament. If meaninglessness were absolutely preponderant, the meaningfulness of life would vanish to an increasing degree with each step in our development. But that is or seems to me not the case. Probably, as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: Life is or has meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.
“When Lao-tzu says: ‘All are clear, I alone am clouded,’ he is expressing what I now feel in advanced old age. Lao-tzu is the example of a man with superior insight who has seen and experienced worth and worthlessness, and who at the end of his life desires to return into his own being, into the eternal unknowable meaning. The archetype of the old man who has seen enough is eternally true. At every level of intelligence this type appears, and its lineaments are always the same, whether it be an old peasant or a great philosopher like Lao-tzu. This is old age, and a limitation. Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man. The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things. In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”
Jung was in his mid-eighties when he wrote that, so I’m still some years behind him. He’d been propounding new ideas about introversion and extroversion, archetypes and psychological functions, while I’ve been working with the Tree of Life, lists of correspondences, and methods of invocation. Most of the time, magick worked if I followed the techniques I’d learned and which I teach students in the Temple. But at a certain point, I found that something Crowley wrote in his Confessions (Cap. 20) had also begun to apply:
“The basis of the delusion is that there is a real apodeictic correlation between the various elements of the operation, such as the formal manifestation of the spirit, his name and sigil, the form of the temple, weapons, gestures and incantations. These facts prevent one from suspecting the real subtlety involve in the hypothesis. This is so profound that it seems almost true to say that even the crudest Magick eludes consciousness altogether, so that when one is able to do it, one does it without conscious comprehension, very much as one makes a good stroke at cricket or billiards. One cannot give an intellectual explanation of the rough working involved, as one can explain the steps in the solution of a quadratic equation. In other words Magick in this sense is rather an art than a science.”
True Will, which sounds straightforward and is so omnipresent that it’s virtually beyond definition, won’t necessarily yield to mundane ideas of volition. It starts out as an empirical process, but it doesn’t stay within the lines. There’s always “A factor infinite & unknown” in the whole business, not just in any given invocation or working. Neither Crowley nor Jung could pin down what this Mercurial agency actually is, nor how it works its art. Sometimes, continued practice can become a hindrance, because we keep expecting a specific outcome. Sometimes, people who think they’ve walked away merely allow that elusive Mercurius the range to do His work unhindered.
But mostly, we just need the rule of life Crowley speaks of, a basic routine, to keep things on track, while we continue trying to let go of anxiety about the specific result we’re after. And keep on working on the subtle art of it all, not just the science.
A few weeks ago, a person some years younger chose to get angry with me on Facebook, calling me out as a boomer who should get out of the way. I thought he was just having a touchy day, but the exchange made me look yet again at just what our later life, our Saturn-phase, is meant to be about. Ostensibly, it ties all too easily into the meaninglessness in the Jung quote above: we forget, we visit doctors too often, we need stronger glasses, and we don’t want to walk all the way to wherever any more.
Yet the core of any spiritual path isn’t about becoming or remaining useful, even if we might feel moved to make more of a contribution because our lives are based around meaning. Awakening is sought for its own sake, because the Universe wants and requires that. “So with thy all; thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay,” as the Book has it (I, vv. 42-43).
My True Will formula, as I’ve always known it, still holds up, and there is still this strong sense that The Big UnThing is just behind the visible or perceptible world. At the same time, having spent years memorising encyclopedias of sephirothic facts and texts of the Holy Books, consecrated all the weapons, and explored what all those dreams, fantasies, visionary images and odd bits of confided information might mean, I’m close to where Jung found himself, and it’s disconcerting, though only problematic when I try to explain it.
Unexpected unfamiliarity” is more frequently my companion than I expected. The only thing I can do with that is share it, as a caution that we all come to a point where it seems that “All are clear, I alone am clouded.” And neither one or the other – clarity or clouds, meaning or meaninglessness – gets to have the final word.
The perpetual message is, “The next step is always into mystery.”
Love is the law, love under will,