Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law
“Whatever was happening, I’d never experienced anything like it before. And I turned to my wife as the night was ending, and asked her, ‘Have we become enlightened?’ But she said, ‘No, we’ve become Christians.’ ”
My friend was a seeker, like me, but his wife was raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses, so their semiotic vocabularies were quite different. That is, he could think outside a Gospel-based box, and she couldn’t. They both ended up in fundamentalist Christianity for about a decade, until their divorce left him without a marriage or a faith.
I actually think he did have a minor enlightenment experience. He’s different to other people that I’d put in the bracket of ‘socially functional,’ and has a rare detachment. At one time, his Christian friends attempted to exorcise the ‘spirit of rationality’ that possessed him, but fortunately they failed.
Then, there was my own conversion experience at age twenty. The frightening late-night disintegration of my self-concept, and the vision that All is Love that came the next morning, led me to join The Process, the group I was with for the next two or three years. I might have tried plunging deeper into the Buddhism that already intrigued me, or one of the other eastern mystical schools available in 1970-London, but I didn’t have an existing rapport with teachers of such systems. I turned instead to the people I’d come to know to work out the consequences of my experience, because I needed to share the shock I’d undergone with like-minded people.
The idea of Thelema as a religion always bothers me, because I don’t think it’s meant to be that. “I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me,” writes Crowley in his Confessions (pg 618). “I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.”
What the Book of the Law offers is a broad paradigm, and the introduction of a new wave, and a way of seeing life, that draws together various things that were building in 1904. It then projects a synthesis of them. This has its cultic aspects – performing Resh or Will, and learning a system of magick – but that’s training, a clearing of the vegetation that has grown up around the Chapel in the Wilderness. We need to start somewhere, so we find a group, a cult, a system, and we absorb its symbology. That gives us a meta-language, a set of images and ideas, with which we can begin to comprehend the incomprehensible. At some point, we move on from that, too, into a private space that we try to explain or offer to others through using the meta-language: chakras and sephiroth, rituals and Tarot imagery, and so on. Hopefully, they can learn from it and eventually cut their own way through Crowley’s ‘jungle.’
More and more, I’m impressed by how the mind takes what it has in memory, and creates its magical web.
Look at Crowley’s Liber 418, The Vision and the Voice, and the first two Aethyrs he scryed in Mexico. They read like a bad Hollywood rewrite of the Revelation of St. John. Then look at the sequence of visions he got in North Africa, eight or nine years later, and the sophistication is vastly different. He’d emerged from his narrow Christian upbringing, and lived amid a world of pagan myths, Hindu mysticism, and a rich mixing of legends and magical interweavings. More to the point, perhaps, he had emerged from the knee-jerk reaction to encountering superior or hyper-intense spiritual energy, of the type the Enochian system opens up. Most people (John Dee, the co-discoverer included), experience the encounter with such potent sacred power by realising it spells the end of our ideas of who we are, and what kind of universe we inhabit. Such an overcoming, which happens predominantly below or beyond the scope of conscious awareness, leads easily to a belief that the Apocalypse is at hand. In one sense it is, because it will de-throne the ego and most of our ideas of what we are, and that can feel Apocalyptic.
The Buddhist writer Linda Heuman recently wrote:
“I remembered how when I returned from Nepal I was seeking to confirm a Buddhist worldview within a Western one; and it occurred to me now to wonder whether reading Buddhism through a scientific lens might not be another way of trying to do the same thing … When I arrived home, I sat in the car for a while in the driveway, still mulling the problem over.
“Gradually it dawned on me: all of these approaches try to sort out who is right.”
This is when I’m glad my teachers taught me the useful maxim, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and bid me scorn anyone else’s objections or judgements.
I suspect that people who jump into the rich symbolism and pantheons of Tibetan Buddhism encounter more problems than those into Western Mysteries, because they have to do double translation. Once the initial fascination with Buddhist metaphysics subsides, there is all this trans-Himalayan Mahayana jargon to decode, and a lot of unfamiliar imagery to memorise and comprehend. I’ve always turned back from the Tibetan systems for this reason. Learning to tell Heruaka from Chenrezig from Opagme from Manjushri, not to mention the variously coloured Taras, might be fun at first, but when the whole psyche becomes engaged with these things, then there must be stumbling blocks galore. You’d have to establish a standpoint or translating function for engaging the Asian symbols with a Western-style consciousness, and that would surely set up a subtle new level of ego just when you thought you were dissolving yours.
No doubt some people feel the same about Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Babalon, and thrive on the different Sanskrit terms for levels of emptiness. I just find the Egyptian and Bible-derived figures in Thelema slide into place more easily because Western consciousness has been engaged with them for millennia, and I wasn’t born in Lhasa or Kathmandhu.
At the end of the day, though, the mind is an interpretive mechanism when faced with forces that are not just new to it, but, by their nature, exist and operate outside of its structures and categories. It’s why the Book of the Law rejects reason as a means of understanding, and why no-one can or will ever give you a neat definition of the phrase ‘Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.’ The more we try to pin defining labels on these things, the more we create obstacles for comprehension.
Yet we continue to try fixing familiar labels on ineffable things because our minds need to do that. Only with practice can we learn to hold conscious attention in realms and concepts, energy-currents and atmospheres, that owe nothing to our private mental vocabularies.
When we can, that jungle of Crowley’s finally starts to thin out.
Love is the law, love under will,
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law