Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The following is an extract of the Temple’s public talk this October.
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This topic is a touchy one in occultism. First off, by the time you actually report for ‘basic training,’ so to speak, you’ve already discovered you’re an oddball.
You might have been fortunate enough to grow up in a supportive environment for oddballs, but that’s rare. Finding you have a propensity for seeing or hearing odd things, or that you have ‘unusual’ thoughts about the world, makes it hard enough to get through a conventional upbringing. Adolescence can be just as bad, while once adulthood hits, you’re expected to ‘mature beyond’ this phase. Or at least get some serious therapy and maybe some effective meds.
If you get into magick in a serious way, then you’re after transcendence. Not visions of unicorns or rainbow-mind stuff. Not just ‘connecting to the Light,’ at least in any conventional sense. Not attaining contented equanimity, like the lovely, slender-bodied people people you see promoting products in health-food store posters, chakras all equilibrated and skin flawless. Nope. You’re after some serious crazy. You might have started thinking you would fix the crazy, like your mother wanted you to do. In reality, you’re trying to un-fix stuff and go crazier.
The author Alan Moore famously observed that “science, historically, has always sought to prove that occultists are fraudulent or else deluded,” while “religion, historically, has always sought to prove that occultists are flammable.” We are happily long past the flammability proving stage, at least in western countries. But magick and Hermeticism still hang out in an odd corner as far as most people are concerned.
The deeper you get into your own path, the more you’ll deviate from polite societal norms. The aim of magick is ecstasy and a Self-related code of ethics. How do you aim for that and keep your equilibrium? The fact is, you have to let yourself drift out of the safe zone at times, and trust yourself to an invisible inner compass.
But if you go too far off the main highway, then you lose a common basis for sharing experiences. Mystery schools use an accepted body of doctrines, diagrams and ascending initiatory degrees because this works. It just does. It all produces a workable, exalted atmosphere, and a means of contacting what we call, perhaps embarrassingly, “higher vibrations.” Such serious schools hold to core principles and practices, while making space for experiences that surpass these.
Crowley, in his Confessions, remarks in Chapter 66 (yes, it’s a long book):
“I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. 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 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.”
But we all need some confirmation of our beliefs and experiences, and we have to work through periods of doubt and anxiety before we have reasonably secure ground under our feet. In particular, in the early stages of Qabalistic progress, it’s extremely helpful to have a community of experienced practitioners around you. They can encourage you over the rough patches, guide you through the smoother ones, and point out details of your growth that your personal limits might lead you to overlook.
So, one of our first requirements as magicians is … other people. I often read stuff online posted by individuals who want to “avoid the politics” of occult groups. But “the politics” are actually our own reactions to other people. Everyone is irritating and obstructive to your path if you keep judging or criticising them, even silently. Sane occultism requires withdrawing such projections of judgement, not watching for the unavoidable failings in other people.
We need to be mindful that magical work stirs up the depths: that’s what it’s supposed to do, after all. Angels and archangels and planetary spirits excite the psyche.
The best-known consequence of this is simple ego-inflation. The magician decides, “I am the commander of the spirits,” rather than recognising that success in the Art comes from a particular kind of alignment with them, and that their atmosphere or residue can affect us. Usually, the working itself will produce corrective nudges, but at times we do have to step back and chill.
A related hazard is becoming over-enamoured with our magical world. Finding we have the ability to create magical effects, and call up atmospheres and images, and presences that whisper interesting ideas to us, draws us into the astral environment, and more than a few practitioners have moved semi-permanently to fairyland as a result. Escapist tendencies end up draining the magical spark in the end, but coming back to earth can be hard.
These are all areas where the concept of True Will has serious importance. People have two basic ideas about True Will: either that it’s the whim of the moment, surfacing from the subconscious in glorious freedom from inhibitions; or that it’s a monolithic, deep-rooted concept, principle or intention that doesn’t vary much in its manifestation. The reality is that while, particularly in our best moments, it does surface spontaneously, conscious direction of our lives is no bad thing. Formal magical training takes us first through earthy Malkuth, the Kingdom, as a caution against future drifting off from our roots.
The True Will is our connection to living: we wish to express our needs, our love, our desires, our creativity in our lives, and they’re all aspects of it. Stifle those things, except in the context of a period of specific spiritual discipline, and we warp our own nature and harm our relationship with life and living.
Our understanding of True Will is always in flux, and our means of relating to it and expressing it vary with time. But always remember that our aim is not alienation from Self; and that alienation from others indicates that such Self-alienation is formulating inside of us, and requires some serious reflection on what might have gone astray. If you increasingly despise the world, you’ve lost the script.
If you’re doing things right, you should have kept a diary with a rich amount of detail on your own process and your feelings as you’ve gone through it. Going back over all that, and looking at your patterns of wandering on and off your own track, clarifies what you might be doing wrong. But also, hiding behind the self-criticism, doubts and overstatements of your own importance, you’ll see half-concealed clues that point to what your True Will actually could be, and how better to adhere to it, to keep your magick useful and sharp-edged.
If we’re going to produce a sane, sustainable occultism for ourselves, then returning to that Will, and searching hard for the significance of what led us off track, is the critical skill to practice.
Love is the law, love under will,
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.