Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The subject, or name, of Satan has dogged Crowley and Thelema for a century. As a criticism, this is to be expected from Christians, or sort-of-Christians, (or people of no identifiable faith except for the God of the Mean Mind) who prefer fearing and resenting different belief systems to studying them. There is also a community of Thelemites who self-identify as Satanists or Luciferians, finding these deities offer a concept of the divine that meets a particular need or ideal, or offer a means of positively rejecting values that have caused them pain and difficulty in the past.
Crowley’s own fascination with the Adversary is no secret. In chapter Two of his Confessions, he refers to his youthful self in the third person, observing:
“The Christianity in his home was entirely pleasant to him, and yet his sympathies were with the opponents of heaven. He suspects obscurely that this was partly an instinctive love of terrors. The Elders and the harps seemed tame. He preferred the Dragon (Satan), the False Prophet, the Beast and the Scarlet Woman, as being more exciting. He reveled in descriptions of torment. One may suspect, moreover, a strain of congenital masochism. He liked to imagine himself in agony; in particular, he liked to identify himself with the Beast whose number is the number of a man, six hundred and threescore six”.
Not surprising, perhaps, given what must have been the emotionally smothering home environment, and the constant hinting at a very interesting force that was always waiting for the unwary … or the hopeful.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of guiding students, it’s not to interfere with anyone’s existing perspective on the cosmic entity we euphemistically call the Holy Guardian Angel. Our relationship to that spiritual force, level, being, or divine presence (all of these designations and more come and go and return as the relationship develops) needs to be explored fully, and if declaring oneself a Luciferian or Satanist expresses the current reality, so be it. My only responsibility as a teacher is to point out that it might not be stable for the long haul, and the student needs to be ready to switch when a particular personal label hits its best-before date.
This happened with Crowley, whose early writings (up through his thirties) are full of references to the dichotomy between God and the Devil, even if his understanding became increasingly subtle over time. His later appreciation of what the Beast and Babalon actually are, and how these archetypes inform and shape the times in which we live, became deeper and more psychologically profound. The fact that he never quite shed the conditioning of his childhood shouldn’t blind us to what he had to say in the big picture.
In the Book of Thoth, in his comments on Atu XV, the Devil, Crowley observes of Capricorn, the relevant astrological sign for the card, that “Saturn the ruler, is Set, the ass-headed god of the Egyptian deserts; he is the god of the south. The name refers to all gods containing these consonants, such as Shaitan, or Satan. Essential to the symbolism are the surroundings – barren places, especially high places.”
Yet these are, by tradition, the places where humanity encounters the Divine directly: think of Moses on Mt Sinai, or Mohammed in the cave of Hira, on the mountain Jabal Al-Nur, outside Mecca. As is often said, this Devil turns out to be the redeemer.
And elsewhere, Crowley explicitly links the core of each being or Star with the notion of hell, because it contains the vital, sacred spark that is beyond good and evil as we conventionally imagine them. The encounter with this core isn’t easy or cosy. It’s disturbing to the foundations of anyone’s psyche, not least for those who think they’ve moved past conventional good and evil.
In his mature writings, Crowley is clearly referencing not some theological or political ‘position’ in relation to conventional religion. He went beyond this, grasping the full antinomian nature of the inner person. The road to the essence of who we are brings us to something that can look sexy or inspiring at first glimpse; but when it’s encountered directly, it’s as scary and ungovernable as anything we’ll know. Its scope extends well beyond what the conscious mind can accept, let alone encompass. I wrote about this in my last piece, on the darkness of the end-of-year season, and that gives us some clues as to what might be coming.
And its sanctity, for many people who have cast themselves in the role of anti-religious rebels, can be the most disturbing thing about it.
The crucial point, though, is that to understand this ‘hell’ inside us, and to develop a relationship with it, means we have to move on past Osirian consciousness. By that, I mean that we are all still heavily imbued with Old Aeon ideas of good and evil, success and failure, sacrifice and virtue, and we have to get our hands and minds dirty sorting all that out before we realise anything deeper. And inevitably, it conditions how we approach any philosophy, Thelema included.
Identifying with a Satanic or Luciferian perspective might offer a way of breaking through to a certain point, provided we’re after something more than mere catharsis. Yet catharsis alone easily becomes a dead end, and the practitioner is left wondering where the fun went, and if it was all a delusion. The answer to that query is a yes, because all our concepts of the HGA are delusory or at least limited, until it has manifested itself directly and inescapably.
Love is the law, love under will,