Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law
The Book of the Law requires a number of things of us, but an inescapable one is energy. Will without energy is like toast without a toaster – it’s limp bread. Effective magick and yoga practice require a relatively youthful body and nervous system for best results. And it’s an unwritten but quietly acknowledged fact that people under forty are more likely to reach Knowledge and Conversation than those who are older. After the middle years, the pathways of nervous energy become less capable of flexible reconstruction, and our mental activity tends more to run on known roads. Surprising the conscious mind with new information is harder, though not impossible: I’m not laying down dogmas here, for they wouldn’t be true. But most discoveries in the fifth decade and after are rediscoveries: ideas set aside or forgotten suddenly assume new prominence, and show us a route ahead, but we do remember having noticed them in passing long before. The shock of the new that’s possible to experience in our twenties and thirties doesn’t happen much any more.
A few years back, I noticed I was not learning much information that was new, even if I was learning new facts that fit into my broader spectrum of ideas. I realised that very little has been said about the later stages of life for magicians, and that it was almost an embarrassment to open up the topic. Yet even Crowley himself mellowed in his last years. Compare the tone of Magick Without Tears, his final book, with that of The Book of Thoth or the Eight Lectures on Yoga, and you’ll feel a different man is writing it. Some of his sarcasm has gone, and he is more willing to deal with questions he earlier saw as naive, or as topics students should solve for themselves.
About four weeks from now, I turn seventy and enter my eighth decade. If the system of relating each sephirah+planet to a stage of life is valid, with Netzach/Venus representing puberty, adolescence and the approach of adulthood; Tiphereth+Sol the emergence into actual adulthood; Geburah+Mars the battle to establish a career and a path through life that commences at the onset of maturity; and Chesed+Jupiter the phase of professional and personal success and fulfilment; then I’m now well into my Binah+Saturn phase. There are a couple of joints in my limbs that agree it’s the time for slowness and reduced motion.
From an early age, when I was first reading Jung, I assumed my post-sixties would be a time of elder wisdom, and a manifesting of the Wise Old Man archetype. I’d look like and sound like you’d imagine the Hermit of the Tarot to look and sound, my eyes twinkling as I conferred fresh wisdom on those around me. But the fact is, my eyes simply need new glasses, there are a few geezerish problems starting up elsewhere, and this senior citizen trip generally isn’t as fulfilling as some people insist it should be. To quote an old song, “I am what I am ’cause I ain’t what I used to be.”
Says our Book of the Law, “Also, take you fill of love as ye will, when, where, and with whom ye will.” But that statement implies a testosterone level that’s untypical for the over-sixties, not to mention an equally untypical selection of opportunities. Or, of booze and drugs: “They shall not harm thee at all. It is a lie, this folly against self.” That was true a dozen years back, but my digestive tract now begs to differ, especially the morning after an evening spent exposing the lie.
Nor does our Book have words of sympathy for those collecting their pensions:
“Hear me, ye people of sighing! / The sorrows of pain and regret / Are left to the dead and the dying, / The folk that not know me as yet.” Not that I consider myself to be ‘dying,’ but there’s a certain measure of pain that comes with almost all senior living. ‘Sighing’ about it is irritating for everyone, include the person sighing, but sensations of sharp discomfort, along with a raft of regrets that come up at certain hours, aren’t unfamiliar experiences.
Before you flip to another website, bored with another aging boomer complaining about declining vitality and lack of respect from clueless millennials and Gen-Z types, I want to stress that this isn’t a complaint piece. Nor is it an irritating demand that my own pressure group be granted wider acceptance by society at large, or that we have safe spaces in public libraries or supermarkets. When I realised I was already essentially a Thelemite (as opposed to ‘becoming’ one), I accepted that my future direction was in my own hands, and that this contract with Self only terminates when respiration and cardiac action do also.
All of which is a long preamble to the key question, What is the True Will of older people? It doesn’t cease to be operative in the later stages of living, but it has to do that operating via a changed body and mental situation.
The traditional role for elders was teaching the young ‘uns. “Yep, when I was an apprentice shaman, young fella, I learned to guard against obsessing spirits by applying an ointment of garlic paste to my head and chest before every ritual.” I still have such a role within this Temple, though I stress my belief that today, garlic should remain a food ingredient only.
But there are certain aspects to the trajectory of life after Canada Pension payments begin appearing in one’s bank account that need to be explored.
Most important, if it is harder to remember swathes of technical information and coordinate it all, then it follows that spiritual development needs to consolidate and simplify. By the time we hit the years of absent head hair, there’s bound to be at least a half-conscious idea of the light and presence of the Holy Guardian Angel that can coalesce to shift our attention off our fading vitality or powers of concentration. That consolidation, as hard to put into words at this stage as such contact ever was, is likely to be less verbal or specific than it appeared to be at earlier points in life, as we begin to contemplate the eventual dissolving of the mind-body link.
With the urgency of need and desire diminishing, it becomes a little easier to accept that It needs to take over to a greater degree. Worldly ambition, for want of a better phrase, is now mostly relegated to the earlier Mars and Jupiter phases of life, while we are looking towards the Da’ath or Chokmah orientations. (Here I disagree with putting dynamic Uranus in Da’ath, which is the pseudo-sephirah of dissolving ego and mystical opening, and better corresponds to Neptune).
The sense that fixed ideas – any fixed ideas – are nowhere near as static and determined as we thought, is an increasing part of our understanding. While I’m not at all trying to equate aging to the specific crossing of the Abyss, there is a parallel with that process. Elsewhere, I’ve suggested that some forms of senility (not strict dementia) are in fact an inability to relate intimations of this shift to the everyday world of describable concepts and grammatical language. If I’m wrong on that, then I’ve at least set up an excellent excuse for my last years.
The overriding sense that comes in, though, is some version of a twofold perception: that ‘the world’ has finally given itself over to the insanity underlying it all along, and that the understandings by which we distress ourselves about its condition are incomplete or inadequate to describe its actuality.
Underneath, there is always and forever the unifying One that’s best understood as None, or Nuit, clear comprehension of which only very few people attain to by conscious effort. Maybe a spotty, erratically occurring, elderly perception of this isn’t what I hoped to achieve when I was still under the spell of driving Mars and expansive Jupiter; but the idea, the intuition, that It is just an abandoned assumption or two away from us is a key consolation of old age. And is, I’m beginning to suspect, the core of what late-stage True Will is finally about.
Love is the law, love under will,