Temple of Our Lady of the Stars

A Thelemic Mystery School

Where Thelema Fits

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

“Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief.”

Aleister Crowley, Chapter XXXI, Magick Without Tears

The following is a part of a public talk given in Toronto in September, 2018.

The Book of the Law declares not just a new set of spiritual principles, but an historic event: the start of a new Aeon. The text explains some of what this will mean, and Aleister Crowley’s own commentaries elucidate it further. He spent the last four decades of his life working to understand it, while admitting there were always parts of it he personally disliked.

We need to remember that he was frustrated by the Book for several years, and only began teaching it privately around 1907, three years after it was dictated. It was only published six years after that, when he’d had some time to come to terms with what it said.

“My equable nature is congenitally hostile to extreme measures, except in imagination,” he wrote in chapter 31 of Magick Without Tears, composed in his last three years of life, 1944-7. “I cannot bear sudden violent movements. Climbing rocks, people used to say that I didn’t climb them, that I oozed over them! This explains, I think, my deep-seated dislike of many passages in The Book of the Law. ‘O prophet! thou hast ill will to learn this writing. I see thee hate the hand & the pen; but I am stronger.’ (Liber AL II, 10-11) ”

My own view has long been that it marks a specific nexus-point in the evolution human consciousness, and that various indicators demonstrate this, even if we can’t ay they “prove” it empirically. Among other things, the last untouched literate spiritual culture, that of Tibet, was invaded by a British military expedition in December 1903, and actual fighting began just eight days before Aiwass dictated the text to Crowley the following April. The result was to begin opening Tibet to the world and, more important, to begin opening the world to the treasures from within Tibet. I find the coincidence of dates suggestive.

If you read the Book and much of Crowley’s ample comments on it, you’ll form the impression that Thelema’s primary goal is to displace Christianity entirely, replacing it with worship of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a modernised version of the Egyptian god Horus. That isn’t incorrect, at least as far as Crowley’s earlier writings on the topic. He had come through a forbidding and claustrophobic upbringing, among strict, Bible-fundamentalist Christians, and was then educated in a school with strict Anglican piety. He had good reasons to detest Protestant Christianity.

Today, while it is still kicking hard and desperately at a world that takes less and less intelligent interest in it, Christianity in developed nations is declining in membership and, most importantly, in its depth of ideas.  Christians talk about deepening their prayer and commitment, without actually having anything new to say that would assist this. The faith is stuck in complaint.

Yet my own root teacher, if I can borrow that Buddhist term, always insisted that if we still had Thelemic orders and such a century from now, we would have failed. The assumption he made, following decades of commitment to Thelema and study of its primary texts, was that the Aeon of Horus wasn’t something related to a specific religion or organisation. Rather, it represents an archetypal shift in human consciousness, and nobody could be unaffected.

To cut to the chase, therefore, if there’s anything substantial to this idea that a new Current was started just over a century ago, it’s going to be something that permeates all levels of our understanding, and for everybody. At this point the Aeon is well on its way.

Crowley felt the previous period, the 2500 years or so of the Aeon of Osiris, only realised part of its goals, and was hijacked by its own tendency to weaken the instincts and the basic liberty of the individual. It did its job in advancing human consciousness to the next set of markers. The question, therefore, is: Will this one be more successful, or will it be derailed? In a hundred years, or maybe two hundred, we’ll know. But the more constructive support it receives, the better.

Re-formulating all spiritual paths sounds like an immense job. It is … yet it doesn’t need to be done by a specific organisation, or organisations. The Thelemic current is not specific to one society, one sect, or an elite group of fraternities. It has been let loose upon the world, and it’s transforming all of the existing paths. There is far more individualism emerging, and being stressed, in all the traditions. Strict, monastic structures are creaking under the strain, so that various senior Tibetan reincarnates have left their orders, and Indian gurus are less able to isolate their ashrams from the westernising cultures around them. Many Christians, and some Jews and Muslims, affirm an individualistic attitude that would have scandalised their forebears.

But mostly, there is a kind of unconscious drift towards more of a realisation that the individual must be an individual. You need to read what some of the more articulate spiritual teachers out of Asia are saying to grasp the point, but the Buddhist, Hindu and Sufi worlds are definitely having to come to terms with the shift in “consumer demand,” which is leading them to reconfigure their teachings in ways that speak to a changing audience.

Crowley again, in Magick Without Tears, noted: “…. the theory of religion, as such, being a tissue of falsehood, the only real strength of any religion is derived from its pilferings of Magical doctrine; and, religious persons being by definition entirely unscrupulous, it follows that any given religion is likely to contain scraps of Magical doctrine, filched more or less haphazard from one school or the other as occasion serves.”

Religion, then, is a derived thing rather than an authentic encounter with divine truth, or whatever phrase we can choose to designate That which we can’t reduce to contradictions. You can make Thelema into a religion, but the critical aim is to derive a religion from Thelema for yourself alone.

It is assumed and understood that the shift in current does not require everyone to declare themselves Thelemic. It does, though, push all of us towards a more Thelemic perspective. The extent to which we embrace this and allow ourselves to evolve is the degree to which we can ride along with so much that is happening and changing.

So … having navigated the first century of the Thelemic Aeon, and seen wide use of psychedelics, sexual liberation, concepts to personal freedom amid a crazed world and the idea of religion no longer being remotely concerned with middle-class values … we get to the point where it is essentialy a practice, and one that, for the foreseeable future, aims at claiming its place among other major mystical paths and also among social movements. And beyond that, it is a weltanschaung: a worldview, with the “world” in question being not just the physical one we see with our physical eyes.

The Book’s core message comes from the phrase with which we open all these talks: that each of us is here to do the Will that drives our lives, and that we have no other task or right but to align with that. This Will is seen as individually specific, all-embracing, and determinant over a person’s entire nature and life-course. You can’t simply figure out what that Will is, since while you can observe your own preferences and hopes, the level of beingness in which it has its roots is beyond conscious access. You have to transmute a lot of manure to get to the philosopher’s stone and the essential significance of your own life.

Doing this produces an expansion of awareness, an elevation of consciousness. As anyone with serious experience of such matters can tell you, such things are often wrenching and emotionally disturbing. Sure, you can visualise white light to your mind’s content, but an actual encounter with the Divine that speaks from within us can be more disturbing than it is uplifting. Some people begin immediately to make prophetic statements: a lot of others spend months or years privately coming to terms with the inner shift that happens.

While you can have amazing realisations and life-changing visions, maturing those realisations and visions is a difficult and often discouraging adventure. I always stress that one function of a mystery school such as our own is help us socialise such experiences, so that we don’t get too attached to the high of the vision or the insight, or become paralysed about moving on after a dark encounter.

The last chapter of the Book has warning from Ra-Hoor-Khuit: “I am a god of war and of vengeance. I shall deal hardly with them.” The “war” metaphor is prevalent throughout the chapter. A decade after the Book was dictated to Crowley’s furiously scribbling hand in that Cairo apartment, World War I started the largest slaughter humanity had ever known to that point, apart from various pandemics. Two decades after that was done, and with a few million people killed in incidental wars in Ethiopia, China and elsewhere, World War II broke out. The death-toll has dropped in the last half-century, but we have found no way to lessen international conflicts. We have approximately 40 of them active at this very moment.

More than just war, we know we’re in an enormous upheaval. Democracy, of which Crowley was highly skeptical, is an imperilled project in the Western nations right now, and has a tenuous hold elsewhere. The various nationalisms that have emerged seem to have little in the way of long-term plans, beyond excluding outsiders.

If we’re going to come through the stage we’re now in, we need not just a prophet or a leader or a moral exemplar (plenty of people have offered themselves up for that role), but a wide range of people moving up to the stage the Book predicts, having some measure of Knowledge and Conversation, over and above whatever concerns there might be, and that they might have, about external conditions. Only such people will be able to rise constructively above paranoia and anger. Simply by being identified with an innate Big Something beyond partisan resentments, they can crystallise a different movement, a different possibility. We might not even know who such people are: “Let my servants be few & secret: they shall rule the many & the known.” (Liber AL, I, v. 10)

The key thing, though, is that Thelema and Thelemites don’t offer a solution or a remedy for our present plight. The old world is in the process of being swept away, and the new Aeon is still being born. It will continue that birth process as an essential part of its character throughout its term, however long that might be.

Different organised spiritual constellations will come up in response, some explicitly embracing Thelemic ideas and some largely unaware of them. The physical world might be in very bad shape by then, and I remain deeply skeptical about uploading my consciousness (or some digital imitation of it) into a digital network.

Thelema isn’t concerned with greater consumption, higher GDP or five-year plans. It aims to push consciousness development along to a new point. It posits that K&C conditions will prevail, in due course, in a significant proportion of people. We don’t offer happy pills, or unicorn-infested visions. Thelemic practice and experience aren’t necessarily fun. They do, though, offer an increasing sense that the individual’s existence has intrinsic worth, and a connection to meaning and authenticity. This is where Thelema “fits.” In other words, it doesn’t fit at all, but steers around – or over – the obstacles. It is not about displacing existing spiritual techniques with new ones, necessarily. The old tricks still work fine, and the actual experience in each case might be very close to what mystics and Adepts of all times and places have encountered.

What is different is the approach to such attainment, in terms of changing the sense of selfhood and its worth.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason



Into the Twenty-Fourth

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Exactly twenty-three summers ago, I waited outside a historic fraternity Lodge in northwest Toronto for two hours or more. Eventually, I was called inside, and was initiated into the Temple of Thelema.

My reasons for being there go back a quarter-century or more prior to that, and I won’t detail them here. Suffice it to say, the T.O.T. was a logical outcome for me, though that logic wasn’t evident to me for a while after I joined. I worked through its degree system, rising eventually to be a Temple Chief, an installed Hierophant and, near the end, one of the three Grand Chiefs of the whole order. Obviously, I also left it, but only after sixteen years of study, ritual, meditation and hope. It wasn’t a waste of time at all. My reasons for leaving related to a sense of things having dried out: of the order not having much direction (it had stopped growing) and myself having absorbed all I was going to in this lifetime from Jim Eshelman, my initiating teacher.

My conscious plan at the time was to work on alone, absorbing all I’d been through and thought, pondering the validity of it all, and looking for the nub, the kernel, the skeleton, of the initiatory process. In fact, and perhaps unwisely, within weeks I was conspiring with other disaffected or former members to start a new, local order, and in March 2012, we inaugurated the Temple of Our Lady of the Stars.

I started composing this post in my head this morning, with the idea of listing the many personal failures that ensued. But by the time I came to put words into coherent sentences, the emphasis had shifted, to “unspectacular level of success.” And by the time this is done, I’ll hopefully have hit a far more truthfully objective stance.

First of all, in any occult adventuring, the idea we have at the beginning is about triumph. We’re going to scale the mountains, attain the heights, plumb the depths, and bring at least a couple of minor new commandments down from whatever Sinai we can ascend. I knew, in taking on the Wardenship of the Temple, that I’d known other people with far more impressive levels of realisation than myself, and more confidence in expressing that achieved Gnosis to others. I was familiar with the whole training process using the conventional Hermetic Tree of Life, though, and hoped I could get by as a kind of caretaker guru.

That’s worked, more or less. People have listened to my public talks because I could explain more about this stuff than anyone else in the southern Ontario area. Some students have been with the Temple for five years or more, and both they and newer members have progressed in life-knowledge, and in emotional and spiritual deepening. Paul Foster Case and Aleister Crowley were told by their inner-plane guides, in different ways, that they were merely the best people available for the work, and the same applies to me. I barely meet the requirements, even on this scale … but I do meet them.

Recruiting is always a frustration. We did deliberately plan to be a locally based order, without far-flung membership. If you can’t reasonably get to a meeting in Toronto twice a month, we politely rebuff your application. But in a city of 2.6-million people, with millions more in adjoining communities, it seemed we needed under one-thousandth of one percent of the population to join us, to have a substantial Temple.

We grow, but we’ve not hit that point yet. What we offer is unfashionable, challenging, demanding of time and energy, and (I assume) intimidating to many; people sometimes indicate they’re not sure about us, when in fact they’re not sure about themselves. Lack of confidence is possibly the biggest barrier to applying for an interview for membership. “I’m not really good at magick and stuff,” is a response I was given one time.

Well, no, you aren’t. Which is why we’re a school: Hogwarts R Us, so to speak.

Then there’s the issue of women members. We are not, thankfully, an all-boys club, but the proportions of the gender mix are frustrating. Why, we never quite know. The problem does apply to other Thelemic orders, not just us. Is it the shadow of Aleister Crowley hovering over Thelema? Is there something supposedly repressive to women in the curriculum and structure? A lack of focus on gender politics? People not grasping we’re a mystery school, a training ground, not a recruiting centre for a sex-cult? Something I said … ? I’ve asked women I know in the esoteric field, but no consistent answers came back.

And there is, also, the fact that the training is honest. We check what people have been up to, and we don’t pass you to the next degree if you’re not ready. Some people get nervous about that. The system would be easy to dilute, but then we’d lose the heart of the thing. We’re trying to trigger spiritual insights, and they only come when you apply a little pressure to yourself.

It’s easy to let the negative aspects of each of these things get to me if I’m tired, or distracted during a meditation, or the magical juice just isn’t there tonight. The pure detachment, the undiluted enthusiasm of “the true spiritual leader,” can go missing in action. Some of those talks I give downtown don’t exactly catch fire. And so on.

There’s only one good response to all my own concerns here. Magick and magical aspiration are based on Will, as we all know. It sustains us through highs and lows, and over, in my case, twenty-three years spent un-learning of anachronistic beliefs and attitudes.

But the Book of the Law also says succinctly, “Love is the law, love under will.” Either you love the whole business, with its sense that “something” that isn’t your everyday self is engaged in this adventure, or you’ll give up. Some people don’t reach that, or can’t sustain the connection. In all of this Qabalah, alchemy, symbolism, Crowleyan prophetical polysyllabic pontification and so on, we find that love is not absent, but rather it awaits us. How?

Because it underlies all things.

In a strange, hurried and harried time, with few norms and institutions going unchallenged, the fact that love lives, and can still be discovered and known, is a rare treasure. The people who study with me (we’re all students, forever), or people who often come out to talks, or who share their own struggles and insights in their related groups … they understand that “being spiritual” starts as one-up-personship, and a possibly neurotic quest for hidden knowledge and/or mastery over themselves. At the end of the day, all of that falls rather by the wayside, and we keep on keeping on for the sake of the thing itself.

Love is the law, love under will … indeed.

Edward Mason

The Family is Praying For You

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The following is an edited extract from a Warden’s talk given earlier this year in Toronto.

Alan Moore famously observed once 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 long past the flammability proving stage, at least for the time being. Ironically, much of the scorn we do have to deal with comes from other occultists (or self-styled occultists), who are afraid of, and thus hostile towards, those who appear to have wandered off the straight and narrow.  I’ve never understood people who quote the line at the top of this post, then proceed to act as if it means the opposite of what it says. But it’s easy to find them. They also aren’t very important, whereas friends and family are.

The deeper we get into our own path, the more we’re going to deviate from accepted norms. For instance, the ultimate aim of magick is ecstasy and transcendence of regular mores. 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 the invisible inner compass that lies in the core of what we’re aiming to attain. If we go too far off the main highway for too long, we lose a common basis for sharing experiences.

Mystery schools work off an accepted body of doctrines, formulae and ascending initiatory degrees, because such an approach works. It just does. It clicks into place, and produces a workable atmosphere and a means of contacting higher consciousness. Such schools have to adhere to their core principles and practices, while making space for experiences that arise beyond those. But each school has to stick to its astral knitting: innovation is often unhelpful simply because it simply derails a process that hitherto has produced results.

Yet we also need to go off-track in order to find our most intimate inner truths. 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 clearly,  a contradictory situation arises. In trying to speak from within as well as on behalf of an established spiritual tradition, we collide with that annoying thing called “consensual reality.” A sign of emerging spiritual maturity is that we grasp how to straddle these two worlds in which we live, without trying to reconcile them forcibly.

Your parents, your boss, your second-best friend and most of your siblings are quite likely to regard your occult interest as eccentric, or a form of dabbling with unfathomable powers of darkness. And they’re not wholly wrong. Esotericism isn’t an interest that’s central to modern living, so it is eccentric; and you’re bound to bring out the inner darkness at some point in your investigations. That’s largely the point, because the darkness is where that which is holiest is found to be hiding. But your outer posse might not believe that.

At the same time, if you’re going to effect any meaningful changes in your life from all this playing around with discarnate beings and strange energies, you have to make it real in the material world around you. You need to become more open-minded, not less, and more understanding of other people.

This has nothing to be with being virtuous. It’s a simple psychological fact that your ability to relate constructively to other people is directly connected to your ability to relate constructively to yourself. If you gaze meaningfully and intensely at every person you meet, or have an uncontrollable urge to speak of Higher Powers to the uninterested, you might have a screw loose.

I often read stuff online posted by solitary practitioners who want to avoid “the politics” of occult groups. But “the politics” are actually just our own reactions to other people. Everyone else can be irritating if we work hard enough at judging or criticising them. Sane occultism requires withdrawing projections of judgement, not searching for the failings in other people.

The training process in a mystery school founded on tried methods does acknowledge the problem. In the end, it calls directly for more engagement with life, not withdrawal. Indeed,  a lot of the criticism you’ll see of Aleister Crowley comes from schools where natural drives and appetites are considered lower things, or dangerous forces that can entrap us in attachment to matter. The fact that spiritual hubris does more lasting harm than a one-night stand or two  is brushed aside.

The highest grades of our system require us to include all that we are, not to reject the inconvenient bits. And this follows on from our greater realisations, the visions that we can never articulate in words, or the encounters with beings that just aren’t like us.

No, it isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing project for all of us, even after years of practice. But a key lesson is that failure is only failure when we give up; if we just keep going, then it’s simply part of the educational process. And this includes our more awkward encounters with people who don’t understand what we’re trying to do, nor why.

The options we have with others who don’t grasp what we’re about are to maintain silence, to explain things more carefully with simple analogies, or to disengage totally.  The third option is the least desirable, since we lose any ability to control the outcome. The other two are difficult; but what can work for us is the sense others will have that we’re serious about what we do, but not desperately serious about ourselves as we do it.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason

The Four Worlds

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

With a topic like the Four Worlds, anything said about them is necessarily subjective. William Gray’s Ladder of Lights is still probably the best book on the topic, even if it seems dated in some ways.

Grasping that these Worlds are not levels, or harmonics, or aspects of a something is hard. The reality is, we humans are primarily creatures of Yetzirah, the astral/mental world of Formation, and we reflexively reduce everything to Yetziratic terms of reference; even, perhaps especially, when we speak of Atziluth or B’riah. The fact that each World has its own frames of reference, its own “language,” can’t be learned quickly.

The following is edited from a fairly lengthy guided meditation on the Worlds. Anyone who wants to appropriate it can do so, bearing in mind that the imagery used was chosen to be suggestive. Others might need to alter it to fit their own experiences and convictions.

The first World: ATZILUTH

We start with Atziluth, or Emanation, often translated as Origins.

Imagine a pearlescent field of white light. It shines, and it is continuous to the limits of our perception. It is silent. There are no beings here that we could recognise as beings, even if there is existence, consciousness, infinity.

There is nothing here. Nothing, that is, that we would recognise as something. We are looking at an infinite field of Light because that is how our minds conceive of it. But it has no dimensions: no space, distances, time. It exists, only, so far as our reasoning selves can know it.

What there is, though, is energy. It has access to any amount of energy. In ways we cannot analyse nor envisage, there are tides of energy that move through this world of Origins. Nothing obstructs them, nor questions them, nor shape or conditions them. There is no resistance, and so we cannot see their movements as we gaze into the infinite field of Light.

These tides, for want of a more exact term, are Ideas. They are not thoughts, which need time and a string of different words, images or symbols for expression. Ideas are pure things, without aspects or contradictions.

Yet as thoughts are to the human mind, so are Ideas to the Mind of All. Unlike thoughts, they emanate infinitely, there being nothing finite to limit them. We can allow our minds to see fluctuations or variations in the Light-field if we wish, but we must remember that this is a trick of our minds, not an actual representation of Atziluthic activity. There being no obstruction to anything in Atziluth, there is no variation, no lighter and darker.

There is only luminosity. And even what we visualise here is a conceit, since the Light of this Light-field is wholly beyond conventional human means of perception.

Absorb this image, this concept, and let it be. It transcends our own existence, the duration and scope of our own lives, our very conceptions of time and space.

The second World: B’RIAH

That something can be, it must come into existence – it should be created. The name B’riah means ‘Creation.’

Envisage this world, too, as an infinite field of luminescence. But like water, it has shimmerings, differentiation, discernible movements.

There are beings here, though it might not seem so, since they do not conflict or differ in their core purpose. In a fashion wholly beyond our ability to grasp, they receive impressions from Atziluth’s tides, and fashion them into archetypal concepts. You might imagine geometrical shapes here, both simple and complex, that all work and create as in some inconceivably immense cosmic equation.

These are archetypes. These are Archangels, since the Archangels work via archetypal patterning. They do not, except in popular legends, appear and make public announcements, although there are, perhaps, more junior and more senior Archangels, whose function are differentiated.

These shapes, archetypes, discrete yet interdependent consciousnesses, are the servants of the Most High. They are creative, though perhaps we should say they do not themselves create. Rather, it is in their nature to reflect and to capture the meaning of the Light-currents that move in the world of Atziluth, of Emanation. They respond to those currents according to the nature of the World they inhabit, and comprise: They formulate, according to input.

They do not create objects nor events, but they act as multi-dimensional lenses to focus Light into ‘holograms,’ if we can use such a crude term. Their geometry allows them to produce such ‘holograms’ with straight edges and curved, with ellipses and spirals and infinite length or duration … or finite.

They are exquisitely attuned to the primal Light-field, so that going on its slightest perturbations, they can produce immensely sophisticated patterns, with enormous, subtle and multi-aspected potential.

At certain times (using a word that only makes any true sense in Assiah, the Manifest), the shapes and patterns align in immense constellations, and new Aeons are born; or the physical Universe within which such Aeons manifest dies and is reborn. Such things are beyond our understanding.

Their activity is ceaseless, yet it seems to us graceful and without friction. There is differentiation here, but not conflict. The gears do not grind, for all things flow. Even if it is required that there be violent division manifested further out into Manifestation, such division here is simply an efficient redistribution of energies, of quanta of Light.

Only in Yetzirah, the world of Formation, does such differentiation become more clear.

The third World: YETZIRAH

This world is different again, for it is infinitely and dynamically responsive to the motions of B’riah. Here, those exquisitely precise and complex patterns are realised as distinct beings and realities.

Time is not as regular as we usually assume time to be, nor are the dimensions of distance as bound by restriction. Yet they do exist, insofar as anything definite can be said to be ‘real.’ For in this scheme of things, we must not forget that the closer we are to the ideal, the closer we are to actuality. The closer we come to what seems to be concrete, the more we are in the field of what we conventionally call ‘mind.’

In Yetzirah are many, many things. Their number and nature are beyond counting. In humans, a few thousand genes in our DNA produce tens of thousands of chemical interactions, and dictate the physical form of our bodies. Just so in Yetzirah, the unseen currents that move through it respond to the patterning that has occurred in B’riah and produce immense diversity.

Here are the so-called angels, the formative forces that we can discern as actual beings: elves and elementals, fairies and neuroses, complexes and salamanders, ghosts and goblins and fears and hopes … and dreams, dreams, dreams. To our human minds, the Yetziratic world is infinite and infinitely varied; and indeed, only by attaining to realisation of B’riah could we make it seem simple. Yetzirah is full of shadows and joys, sunlight and darkness, sadnesses, hopes and ambitions; … and secrets, secrets, secrets.

We think we are human beings, and for most of us, to un-think that is to invite madness. Our object as initiates is to un-think it and not go mad. To do this, we must navigate Yetzirah.

Here is all the content of art and philosophy, crime and brutality, aspiration and idealism. It is taught that if we learn the symbol-language of this world, and understand how it is ruled by the primal currents in the limitless Light-field and join with the pattern-beings, then we can modify our own passage through it.

And this is our world. We see and feel our bodies, which ache and itch, demand and desire, rest and heal, but we do not really feel we are them. We are primarily creatures of Yetzirah, formators in the world of Formation, perpetually working magick but without the proper safeguards of enjoying sacred direction. Our dissatisfaction with our own lives (since we identify a ‘life’ with existence in Assiah, and with the body’s timespan) arises from our inept sorceries and frantically ignorant magick, performed without understanding of the Worlds and their currents.

Yet we can also, in time, learn the principles that underlie and govern Yetzirah, even if we know no names to give to those presiding powers.

Some of us, naturally, are happier magicians than others. Some of us, also, learn to love, and love well, without consciously knowing that the primal Light-field is emanating Love. Magick itself is the conjoining of certain techniques with reverence, the uniting of desire with elevated enthusiasm, so that we can rise above our unhappiness or see past our apparent incompleteness. Or to put it another way, magick is the applied art of Love.

Such magick has its effect in the world of Assiah, which translates as either manifestation or action. Though often, only a very discerning eye can perceive such changes.

The fourth World: ASSIAH

Here the entities and energies of Yetzirah are projected via the lenses of mind into coherent forms and quantities. This is the world of measurement: mass and matter, time and space, duration and durability, stuff and the need for it.

This is the densest of the four Worlds, and it appears concrete. If you question its concreteness, feel free to walk into a nearby wall as a test. Yet it is also mind-stuff: Idea made detectable.

To complete the processes of existence, and to fulfil the unknowable requirements of Atziluth, we manifest and act here. Perhaps this is the great laboratory where God observes Itself in action. Perhaps this is the playing field for the Games of the Gods. Perhaps this is the party-place of all that can be known and that can know itself.

And perhaps, as many scientists and all Buddhists would have us believe, it is a constantly changing environment, where Beingness can experience ecstasy, even in terror. It is actual existence, which is pure joy, if we but know that it is a moment, an unreal reality, an immense, astounding machine that is supposed to decay with entropy into deadness, yet sustains itself in apparent defiance of this. Constantly we discover things about it: its complexity, its dynamics, its immensity. We are Forming it in Yetzirah all the time, according to the patterns determined within Emanation and created via B’riah.

To know this fully is to have the elusive gift of mastery.

Once we thought we dwelt on a flat plane, then we determined we were on a sphere. Then we determined that the sphere was not the centre of all things, but the Sun was; and then we realised that the stars are other suns, and the suns swirl in galaxies, and … Are we really discovering all this, or are we Creating and Forming it as part of the unfolding story that begins, in a way beyond comprehension, in an infinite Light-field?

And does that matter, provided we honour this compilation of Light that is the material universe? This is where we learn about the world of Formation that conditions it.

And, if we still our thoughts and do not force the process of imagining what lies beyond but simply allow it to unveil itself to our patiently disciplined, meditative selves, performing our magick in accordance with the law, of each our own lives, we might learn the ultimate secret: that Assiah, the World of Action, is the World of Emanation, but seen from a different viewpoint.

That realisation, though easy to imagine, lies at the end of a very long journey.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason



Psychologising Magick

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Discussion relating to “psychologising magick” comes up often in relation to modern mystery schools. With the spread of psychological understanding, and the participation of actual practicing psychologists in occultism, at times it seems as if the old idea of contacting angelic spirits directly has been set aside in favour of endless introspection.

It hasn’t. What has happened is that our conception of what occultism aims for has evolved, and spiritually oriented psychology has become one of the primary tools we use.

Recall, if you will, Crowley’s injunction that any effort not aimed at Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel amounts to black magick: in other words, the adept’s sole aim and responsibility is to attain a higher plane of consciousness and understanding, which in turn helps the rest of humanity move through the present pervasive state of crisis. His assertion, of course, should be qualified with the observation that K&C requires extensively exploring the byways of our existence, including, eventually, evocation and comprehension of the more violent or unstable forces within us.

It is appreciated in the schools today that we have to shovel a lot of snow from the mental sidewalks to know where they truly lead. But students sometimes wonder if they’ve been conned into a psychotherapeutic cult as opposed to a magical order.

This seems odd, though, when we consider how many terms in Sanskrit or Tibetan refer to states of consciousness. Introspective schools of spirituality can’t avoid psychological terminology, nor do they flinch from it Thus, ‘samskara’ in Sanskrit refers to mental impressions or recollections; in Tibetan, ‘rigpa’ refers to knowledge of the ground of consciousness; and so on. Follow an online rabbit-hole about Mahayana Buddhism, and term after term relating to conditions of mind comes up. Only very narrow or shallow forms of western esotericism speak solely of spirits and discarnate entities, without reference of the operations of mind.

The key thing to understand in all this – and unfortunately, it’s difficult to grasp until it’s become self-evident – is that the key inner plane beings don’t necessarily appear in any form or image that’s like their traditional representations. It may well be that they have no form in a sense we can understand. What we see in visions or astral journeyings is what our own minds superimpose when connection occurs, as a way to interpret to consciousness the impressions that come through.

People who reach into esotericism and who are more or less self-taught see a lot of things. They might take their visualisations and the things they hear inwardly for actualities, and perhaps draw all they feel they need from them. Well-founded mystery schools are less considerate. They expect students to deconstruct a lot of their perceptions, and to reabsorb a whole range of such psychological projections in order to explore the roots of the outlook that produced them. Psychological self-awareness is developed as part of the program, and only gradually is the student given serious magical exercises to perform.

But at some point, this process bears its fruit, and the student begins to understand something. The beings or levels of consciousness being sought won’t necessarily appear, as they did to medieval saints, as shiny golden-winged figures, but are found to lie behind or within the most provocative, unusual or disturbing thoughts we have. This isn’t to say there will be no associated imagery, but rather to stress the necessary depth of mind-to-mind contact needed for us to avoid falling for ego-inflating ideas and other delusory content. Eventually, realisations develop around how higher-realm entities are to be reached on an exalted plane of consciousness, and how our knowing the foundations and deep currents within our own minds provides a clearer means for such communication.

Before we can ‘speak’ with angels, we have to learn to silence an immense amount of our own mental noise. The psychological techniques and jargon are never a way of sidetracking us, but actually of offering a more direct means of access. We come to appreciate that the beings we seek are minds in their own right, yet of a different stamp and character to any human minds we’ve encountered.

It’s the intelligence and understanding present in such discarnate minds that we were looking for all along. And as a result, the HGA, the coordinating and underlying consciousness among these different beings, begins to become accessible.

But only by looking within our own minds, and grasping the strange processes, distractions and deflections from simple purpose that happen there, can we discover the way to form these connections that we set out to find in the first place. More than being perceived glorious visions, or enchanting vistas, these entities are just as real as our own individual minds, but they operate beyond the zones of thought and feeling associated with being conventionally human. Eventually,  we can see that having observed the essential tides in ourselves wasn’t a deflection of our purpose, but the key to achieving it.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason

You’re Here Already?

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

While I was visiting central Mexico a few weeks ago, a friend invited me to hike up a modest-sized mountain. I was cautious because I’d recently had occasional vertigo. I decided to go on the grounds that if the dizziness became worse in future, I might never be making such a hike again. And I’d long wanted to ascend this particular cerro.

So, four of us set off one sunny morning and while one woman dropped out because the climb was too demanding for her, the remaining three of us scrambled over rocks and pulled ourselves up by tree-roots till we got the summit and could look down on the vultures coasting on thermals below us. My vertigo didn’t appear and apart from some breathlessness and aching knees, I felt fine. When we got down, I was in a great mood that prompted me to buy lunch for the others.

After coming back to Toronto, I went to see my family doctor, in case the vertigo indicated something that needed attention. After checking me for ten or fifteen minutes, he found my old heart arrhythmia was worse than it used to be, and my pulse was unusually low. He suggested I might have had a heart attack.

Cue the inner scream, perhaps accompanied by the screeching violins from the Psycho soundtrack.

Long story short – no, I hadn’t had a heart attack. You can’t really climb small mountains after such an event, and next day, a stress test on a treadmill confirmed I feel better after exertion, not worse. But I’m now undergoing tests to check the problem(s), and determine how best to control them. I have one of those nuisance afflictions of the aging (I’m 68), which gradually make us less energetic and mobile. And of course, with all this focus on a vital organ, one which has always represented an irrational measure of anxiety to me in any case, my own mortality is in question just as this year hits its solsticial death-point, and its calendrical one too in about a week.

The Book of the Law has seventeen references to death; it doesn’t shy away from the topic. But so much of Thelemic theory and practice refers to living life fully (II, 22: ” Be strong, o man! lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture” and so forth), while the quotes on actual death are often used by people to disregard concerns about encroaching intimations of mortality. Perhaps more to the point, North American culture in general is queasy about death and dying, despite efforts to bring it more into mainstream thinking since Elizabeth Kubler-Ross began publishing her work two generations ago.

One reason I like Mexico is that the culture is far more comfortable with the notion of death. Apart from the Days of the Dead festival at the start of November, people generally express their relationship to the dead and to dying more freely than in the English-speaking parts of the continent. Gaily decorated skulls or Catrina images are sold as souvenirs in the markets, and cemeteries are much gaudier than here, where sober stone-slabs usually mark the final homes of our dead.

If True Will involves the expression of all aspects of our existence, then beyond it being about loving as we desire, exceeding by delicacy as we party, and folly against self being a lie, it also must include the fading out of life. The diminishing of organic life is a mirror-image to all that comes earlier; it’s a period of review and realisation, and the gradual opening of a level of mystery that words don’t describe very well.

I’m not particularly afraid of death per se, but the preceding decline is something else. My own mother took ‘an unconscionable time a-dying,’ and a few years ago I watched a friend go from cheerful vigour to pallid-skinned exhaustion as colon cancer (which wasn’t diagnosed till his final week) drained his life. In my own age-group, it’s increasingly common to come across acquaintances dealing with varying degrees of fatigue or distractedness as the diseases of later years take hold, and the smiles come less readily.

So, I won’t pretend I’m philosophical about the constraints I’m personally facing. The body has its own needs, its own limited consciousness, and its reactions to disease are fearful. Noticing, or simply identifying, the part of ourselves that looks on and considers the whole business interesting and a means of accelerating the maturing of the non-temporal side of our nature, is difficult when physical dysfunction keeps intruding with fanfares of anxiety. It doesn’t help that often, other people tend to insist a stricken person must regain wellness, as if passing on were some kind of failure, not an inevitability.

My cardiologist thinks my own condition is manageable, and that I don’t need a funeral plot yet; but the fact is, death usually follows a cumulative breakdown of bodily systems. Anyone over fifty becomes aware of this. It’s frustratingly unavoidable to be preoccupied by your own creeping debility, and I understand better now the urge some older people have to talk about their operations or hospital experiences.

Much of life, after all, is about fear. The world beyond home is scary to a small child, bullies and mean teachers upset us at school, economic uncertainty is a constant for anyone with a family, or even for a single person. Anybody’s future will entail hazards and setbacks. Fear is our teacher. The anxiety of fading bodily vigour is a part of the experience of True Will in the later stages, not an unfortunate irrelevance. “Death is forbidden, o man, unto thee,” said Aiwass in the Book (II, v. 73). But that was easy for him to say: he didn’t have a body anyway. Aleister Crowley did, and his own heart finally gave out one day in 1947.

The point to make here is paradoxical. There is no philosophical stance, no spiritual insight, that counters or cancels the fact that checking out is kinda messy. The personal self feels helpless, and only the influence of the Neshamah, the supernal level of consciousness, upon the deeper levels of the self-conscious Ruach, has much utility. Perhaps some incarnate bodhisattvas can handle it all without contradictions, and with equanimity; the rest of us have to extract significance from what happens, and see each stage as one more permutation of True Will. Despite the persistent idea that somehow we get to define True Will, True Will itself defines what we conventionally think of as our personal selves.

The body will cry that it has to face its decline and ending, and we can’t deny that side of our existence; but True Will is rooted outside of time. The “Ah heck, more symptoms” moments are part of coming to know that, it seems.

Crowley had not much to say on the topic of dying, and he wrote little as his own life was ebbing in the mid-1940s. While I’m hoping I won’t have anything pertinent to add for some time, the reality of the last decades of life being a time of decline and health problems needs to be opened up. To understand the full vector of a lifetime, the whole passel of phases and stages, is part of comprehending True Will and widening our relations with the Being at the root of each of our lives. Writing that this evening is my own memo to myself to say more as the years flow onward.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason.

Other People’s Cool Thoughts

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The last time I posted a selection of favourite quotes here was a couple of  years ago, so I can get away with it again today. The following selection isn’t necessarily “what I think is true,” so much as “I never thought of that in quite that way.”

I collect quotes. I have scores, perhaps hundreds, in different files. The ones that attract me are usually in some way Thelemic; not in the sense of necessarily conforming to something Aleister Crowley said (though some of them are his own), so much as being statements that tend to tip the mind in the direction of considering what is and what isn’t related to discovering True Will. Beyond this observation, I let them speak for themselves.

First, Barbara Ehrenreich, on a spiritual experience she had in her late teens:

This was not the passive beatific merger with “the all,” as promised by the eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, and one reason for the terrible wordlessness of the experience is that you cannot observe fire really closely without becoming part of it. Whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze.

Ecstasy is a critical concept in Thelema, which Crowley (and other people) declares is essential to the human soul.  Ehrenreich says of her experience, however:

“Ecstasy” would be the word for this, but only if you are willing to acknowledge that ecstasy does not occupy the same spectrum as happiness or euphoria, that it participates in the anguish of loss and can resemble an outbreak of violence.

This one is a cautionary comment by the esoteric Christian writer Richard Smoley, from a talk he gave in 2006:

[Kabbalah] means receiving in two ways. One is receiving the teachings as handed down over time, which is why Kabbalah is sometimes translated as “tradition.” But it’s also a matter of receiving spiritual impulses and translating them into action in this world. Apparently ‘kabbalah’ is the word used in modern Hebrew for TV reception.

The next two are by Johannes Scotus Eriugena, a 9th Century Christian monk (not Duns Scotus, if you know who he was), and David Chaim Smith, a modern Kabbalist. First, Eriugena:

We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.

And Smith:

The sole concern of the mystic is the realization of the atzmut (essence) of all phenomena. However the difficulty in understanding this rests in the fact that the essence has neither existence nor non-existence, and cannot be definitively reduced to any mode of knowing or state of being. Yet it is not discovered elsewhere.

(Those two quotes strike me as holding a few years’ worth of material for serious contemplation).

On a non-mystical level, yet a strongly Thelemic one, here’s Van Jones, a black CNN commentator, talking earlier this year to university students:

I don’t want you to be safe, ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.

(Please, yes).

And the novelist Doris Lessing:

Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.

(That applies, I find, to a number of people who are always about to start – or re-launch – magical study and practice. It’s in fact a specific condition occurring with much practical magick).

I put little store in ‘reason’ and its advocates, because it usually strikes me as being a cover for unconscious tendencies within the reasoner. Every time someone tries to persuade me otherwise, I try to listen and end up more convinced I’m right.  In his essay, In Memory of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung had the following to say:

If our critical reason tells us that in certain respects we are irrational and infantile, or that all religious beliefs are illusions, what are we to do about our irrationality, what are we to put in place of our exploded illusions? Our naive childishness has in it the seeds of creativity, and illusion is a natural component of life., and neither of them can ever be suppressed or replaced by the rationalities and practicalities of convention.

So there. And from Jung’s essay on Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype:

Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.

I don’t know much about NIsargadatta Maharaj, but this one caught my eye (and mind):

No thing in existence has a particular cause – the entire universe contributes to the existence of even the smallest thing … A thing is as it is because the universe is as it is.

And a related observation from Ken Wilber, from his A Brief History of Everything:

It’s not that harming the biosphere will eventually catch up with us and hurt us from the outside. It’s that the biosphere is literally internal to us, a part of our very being, our compound individuality – harming the biosphere is internal suicide, not just some sort of external problem.

That will do for now. More ineffable wisdom of my own when some occurs to me.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason


Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The following is an edit from notes I prepared for a recent Academic Line class for students.

Psychological projection is the concept whereby which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by evading or denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually disapproving towards others, but prefers to avoid the fact, may constantly find other people to be passive-aggressive.

Freud explored the idea in his work, and today it’s a familiar part of human discourse. But why would we consider it part of the Mystery School work?  For we do, and at certain points of the training, no-one logging less than two or three of their own projections per day in their diary would get a Pass from their supervisor.

We’re all familiar with the idea of life consisting of illusions that point towards one Grand Illusion when we study Hinduism, or Buddhism. In western cultures, we’re more convinced of the actual reality of the things we encounter, and stripping away that misconception is a critical component of the path towards discovering True Will.

One difference in Mystery School practice is that we address positive projections as well as negative ones. In group ceremonial work, officers are invested with a certain level and stamp of authority, as part of the magick. A Hierophant, for example, is supported by this during the working, even if the projection is spontaneously (and preferably) released afterwards.

More subtly, we examine projections onto authority figures: social exemplars, artists and musicians, Aleister Crowley as the prophet of the Aeon. Similarly, we look at the projections we place upon those close to us. In each case, we find aspects of ourselves we habitually exclude from our awareness. Seeing them in other magicians, in thinkers, lovers, writers and creative individuals – and making careful note of them – offers significant clues to the relationship we have with the transcendent Power within which we live and move. Work with such projection material continues over many years, as we gradually tease out things we’re too shy, or afraid, or other wise inhibited, to notice on a day-to-day basis.

Before that process comes into clear focus, we also need to eliminate our own blameful off-loading of the less adorable sides of our own nature onto those around us. In a close community such as a Mystery School, such matters are easily magnified, and the tradition is famously littered with feuds and schisms that could have been eased by such training of mental watchfulness.

Even in everyday life, openness to seeing of your own projections is a useful life-skill. It means you can catch your own reactions before you explode at all the irritating people in the world that reflect yourself to yourself all the time.

My own favourite excuse people offer for not joining a Mystery School is the statement, “I don’t want to get caught up in all the politics of those things.” And of course, the politics you can get caught up in are …  you. If you aren’t political, caught up you will not become.

The practical idea of the Tree of Life, as in a board-game or a video game, is to the get to the top level. That is, to realise and unite with the Great Big Thing, the spiritual totality of which we are individually partial reflections. And small partial reflections, at that. But if we can embrace the totality, then we can first reach the famous Knowledge and Conversation, and later, go on to more comprehensive and ego-dissolving states of being.

There’s the clue. The mundane ego, which is a function of the outer consciousness, the daylight self if you will, exists with a huge filtration device as a back-up. We tend to see ourselves as temporary, flesh-inhabiting thought machines that sometimes have interesting spiritual experiences. We don’t – we can’t, because we won’t – see ourselves as spiritual beings that sometimes have temporary, flesh-inhabiting thought-based experiences.

But we can’t drop the filters all at once, or we go nuts. There was a discussion among some Temple members recently about Friedrich Nietzsche, who went suddenly catatonic, and never spoke again. There’s a long-standing esoteric view that he had, so to speak, philosophised himself to the point of a massive insight, but lacked the actual means to pass through the experience without damage to his personality structures. Perhaps that was the case … if so, he stands as an example of someone who would have been better off if he’d done his projection work before writing Thus Spake Zarathustra.

(For a brief, conventional overview of the man’s lapse into silence, see this).

We can take the projection approach for dealing with the Tarot associations of the paths by which we ascend the Tree. The Aeon, for example, is on the path by which the energies of spiritualised reason, in Hod, or Splendour, move into outer consciousness in Malkuth. Paradoxically, it is a path of Fire and a virtually revolutionary state of mind, because I said spiritualised reason, not just logic. Its impact on outer consciousness is to create an upheaval. We project onto spiritual intellect, the logical aspects of things, the process of ideation or idea-making, that it is simple and clear. But seen in relation to the totality of our existence, it is an encounter with some shocking ideas about what the roots of our beingness are all about.

Similarly, on the other side of the Tree, the Moon card actually depicts the process of projection pretty neatly. Here is the scarab beetle with the Sun at Midnight. He is painted against a background of life-rhythms, the underlying forces and factors within our nature that we exclude from consciousness most of the time.

Now, above, we see the consciously observed (i.e., projected) scene. It’s moonlit in a mysterious and somewhat freaky way. Here are images of Set and Anubis, in front of two dark towers like the pillars of a Hermetic temple. “How splendid is the Adventure!” Crowley says of what this card represents. But it is the depiction of going into an unknown region, not knowing much of what could emerge along the way. Hod was about reason, in a particular sense, whereas Netzach is about feeling and desire, emotion and instinct. That is, the stuff represented by the blue and red lines below. In advance, we can only project our own anxieties onto such an experience, even if turns out to be entirely salutary.

The clearest examples come with two of the cards leading directly into Tiphereth, Death and The Devil. Death represents the constant process of ceasing to be and coming into being that is the essential nature of human existence … and human existences. But for us, conventionally, the ending of anything is a cause for dismay or pain, and physical death is held out as a kind of failing, especially in the time when we’re promised every week that digital upgrades could help us live for centuries.

The Death card, and the path on which it lies, challenge our projections of fear, loss and failure around the ending of a phase of living, or an entire existence. Only by developing insight beyond the norm – by exposing our own projected anxieties – can we pass up this path.

The Devil even more directly challenges our assumptions about what is good, desirable or necessary. It’s a truism in the Mysteries that “The Devil is the Redeemer,” but realisation of this fact calls for courage and patience. Crowley grasped very clearly that things we conventionally regard as evil are integral parts of the essential vitality and what we could call the ‘deep ecology’ of the human soul; something for which, unsurprisingly, he is still widely execrated.

It takes a rare honesty about self to venture into this territory. Yet there is no full access to the Solar Self possible until we enter into this process.

Projection occurs in many directions. We project a lot onto our own selves (“I am unattractive and worthless;” or alternatively, “I am an Indigo Child, and the world needs me now!”). We project onto religions and religious groups, and so we sideline and repress our own natural religious instincts as well as our options for meaningful insight. Electoral politics today is more about disowned flaws or deficiencies in others than about topical issues. And so on.

We ourselves created the Maya in which we dwell, where we can’t see What we are at root.

To understand projection and to use it does not mean sacred things are not valid, or that they don’t transcend the human plight. Projection is a tool that addresses human psychology, but the personal psyche that manifests that psychology has limits. As a technique, observed and meditated projection doesn’t begin to replace meditation or systematic ceremonial magick, but it offers a critical tool that aids and accelerates their effects.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason

Whoops, I (nearly) did it again

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The usual giveaway is a word like “attainment.” He (it’s a peculiarly male thing in the online magical world) challenges my attainment after I offer a comment. Am I demonstrating the correct Thelemic stuff? Is my experience the genuine article? Can I prove I’m awakened?

It’s the same nonsense that happened in the schoolyard decades ago, and later on in adolescent debates and squabbles. But here it is again, as dismally vital as ever in a supposedly ‘conscious’ environment.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t just work intellectually in exchanges of online comments, but operates on an empathetic level too (even if some of your ’empathy’ is in your own head), it can be hard to resist being pulled in. Your own emotional response, and the knowledge that your own experience is necessarily not absolute, draws you into the game.

And underneath the goading, there’s also a pleading; a desperate need for validation. “My experience is the true one, the actual one. Right? Right …?” It triggers your own uncertainty, your own blank areas and doubts, and even a perverse desire to help the person who’s being obnoxious. After all, that should confer a sense of superiority of your own.

Spiritual experiences come, and in time the high passes. The mundane self resumes its habit-patterns, and you wonder, Did I actually change? Was anything in that substantial?

A key factor in spiritual work is what Crowley called stabilising in the grade. Ego inflation is par for the course with many openings, followed by a corresponding ego deflation with the passage of time. We still need to watch our own responses and reactions, our own pride, and our own iffy zones. Nobody gets control of all of it.

Additionally, for me, some key experiences are years in the past. The one that most transformed my life, the total mind-blower, came 46 years ago. It’s now an established part of my worldview, not a fresh event. I’ve stabilised in that “grade” several times over, and my work now is about maturing the long-term echoes of that and other key openings that came in my forties and fifties. The drama of such things is no longer that significant to me; so I can acknowledge that “I” am not those experiences, or even the level of beingness on which they have established themselves.

I might feel miserable, confused or lonely, yet I also know that certain things are true. The non-decay of certain of my negative personality factors doesn’t affect that.

Perhaps the online jousters, the people who need to “strike hard & low, and to hell with them, master!” see these things too, these habitual, compulsive doubts. My ones mirror the things they too haven’t resolved, or even addressed, in their own lives. And at times, they suck me into the game for another round.

But not as much, these days, thankfully.

Someone once remarked to me that spiritual attainment was like a sunny afternoon. “You can’t take credit for the sunshine,” he said, “so why think spiritual insight belongs to you? Mind you, we easily feel that if we only could, we could hang onto it till tomorrow. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Insight belongs to itself.”

In time, even the most ardent pissing match fan probably grasps that.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason

Sigmund, Carl and the Sanctuary

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

At the start of the millennium, depressed after breaking up with a long-term girlfriend, I entered psychoanalysis. I first went to a psychologist recommended by my company’s HR department, who in turn referred me to a Kleinian analyst in Toronto. (Melanie Klein was of the second generation of Freudians).

For more than six years, I visited him three or four times a week. After a while I chose to sit in a chair facing him, but we started, in classic Freudian fashion, with me lying on a couch, something that initially appealed to me because it linked back to the pioneering days of modern psychology. On a business trip during this period, I made a reverent, excited visit to Freud’s old domicile in Vienna, ascending the stairs to the apartment, which is open to the public, like a Catholic pilgrim visiting Lourdes. They had all passed through this bright stairwell, I thought: the Sergei Pankejeff  ‘the Wolf Man,’ Carl Jung, Sabina Spielrein, Sandor Ferenczi: all those wild characters in Freud’s career. You could make an argument that educated 20th Century consciousness emerged from what came out in the sessions up those stairs at the end of the 19th.

Eventually, I terminated my analysis after a period of trying to break free. The analysis was frustrating to me because it never got to the crux of the dialogue between analyst and analysand. It did provide insights, it did support me through a critical phase in my magical development, and I certainly can’t blame the disappointments entirely on my analyst. But it all stumbled, for me, over language. Or, you might say, meta-language.

As a teenager, anxious and withdrawn, I stumbled across appreciative references to Jung in a book of essays called Moving Into Aquarius, by the composer Michael Tippett. I couldn’t make much of Jung’s more formal writings when I borrowed a couple of books from the library, (I must have been seventeen at the time), but once I discovered Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I had my in. That book has never been far from me in all the years since.

A key difference between Freud and Jung is that Freud was an atheist. Jung was not a theist in the conventional sense, but he is often called a mystic by those who consider the term an accusation, and his stance was a long way from Freud’s.

There’s no reconciling the two positions, or the data the two schools present. The assumptions in the Freudian and post-Freudian view are scientific and rationalist, and psychoanalytic theory aims to pull order out of the chaotic influences of a disordered world upon the (relative) blank slate of the subconscious. The anxieties and ignorance of parents and other influences affect the development of the growing child in good ways and bad, and the analyst’s task is to help untangle those different threads. To quote Freud’s famous line from Studies in Hysteria, “You will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.”

For Jung, there is an inherent organising and unifying principle in the psyche that he called the archetypal Self, and achieving communion with that produces resolution of inner conflict through attainment to a sense of meaning. If – if – attained, such alignment, or union, heralded by a sense of numinosity or profound stillness, leads to serenity, wisdom or joy. To quote an old line, this is where history is redeemed by eternity. The experience might be described as union with God; in Jung’s own work, the Self, as a primordial level of the human psyche, is not described as God, but many people would use the term.

In analysis, I avoided the discrepancy between the different viewpoints until it came up one day, and my analyst admitted he hadn’t read Jung. I assumed at first he meant he hadn’t studied the man, but then he confirmed he hadn’t read any of his books.

I’m a Libra, I’m relatively empathetic, and my years had taught me the importance of tact. I acted as I usually did in stressful situations; I didn’t walk out, or even seriously remonstrate with him. But in retrospect, my response seems absurd. I wouldn’t respect a Jungian who hadn’t once or twice dipped into Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, or The Interpretation of Dreams. From then on, the lie underpinning the analysis was the astral elephant in the room.

I share the blame with my analyst. I should have just said “That’s unbelievable for a literate psychiatrist in the 21st Century.” Instead, I tried to finesse it. And, as I’d already been doing all along through the analysis, I kept on translating my ideas, my views, my feelings, into terms I thought he could grasp. He was open to different viewpoints, but I realised he wouldn’t and couldn’t enter into my primary zone of understanding. Anything idiosyncratically spiritual I said would, inevitably, be translated back again by him into the concepts that made sense to him: the primacy of the mother (a key Kleinian trope), the effects of parental actions in general, and so on.

Not that these aren’t important. Jungians – anyone – knows this. But there’s a fundamental thing about a person’s worldview that, in the psychiatric confessional, is central. If one brings in one’s confusion or anxiety, with a hope of calm as an outcome, then the Freudian perspective will help (using ‘Freudian’ in the broadest sense). If somebody is predisposed towards meaning, and assumes it as the crux of life and its goals, then to the Freudian that in itself can ultimately seem neurotic. The accusation can be expressed sympathetically, or hedged with tolerant caveats, but the fundamental viewpoint is that any kind of ‘spiritual’ experience is a pathological experience of either the mother or the father. The only kind of Higher Self is the superego, which is not a very sympathetic entity on the whole. This difference in perspectives helped drive Jung himself to break with Freud around 1912, after a five-year association.

Even magicians split into ‘Freudians’ and ‘Jungians’. There are rationalistic, atheistic Thelemites who see Crowley as the author of an ethical or socio-political system, and who will dismiss ceremonial magick as mere “yelling at the walls.” And there are people for whom, when the stars align, those same walls dissolve. Since Thelema aims to celebrate diversity, the difference shouldn’t be that important, but it does produce incomprehension and, sometimes sharp disputes.

The initiatory track, the magical path, and certainly the A.A. path, necessarily derives from a Jungian standpoint. It assumes, a priori, a meaningful essence or an innate core of truth that’s accessible to human consciousness. It also requires a healthy dose of Freudian skepticism at times, to offset any tendencies to unicorn-chasing; but there’s an aspect to the quest for the Grail that can’t be satisfactorily expressed in Freudian terms. And given the centrifugal forces in play within western societies at this time, a sense of connection to something like Jung’s archetype of the Self seems a necessary innoculation against the tides of craziness that increasingly disturb the sleep of all of us.

Identifying the effects of two streams in ourselves is critical in individual development. Integrating the magical worldview with day-to-day life is the supreme challenge for many practitioners. My own experience in psychoanalysis led me to look at all this more closely, just as reflecting on it this morning highlighted a few continuing difficulties. After all, the inwardly polarising effects of trying to deal with skepticism, our own and others’, as we simultaneously try to open more interior doors, show up reflected in the world about us, and sometimes nastily so. Understanding why and how we inspire opposition is important for us.

The example of the mature Jung, like that of the mature Freud, offers some help here. Both men struggled with academic and social hostility in different ways; Freud because he was a Jew and, in discussion of sexual aspects of his theories, because he was deemed “a low, dirty-minded Jew;” and Jung from the less dangerous criticisms of a literary and artistic world that embraced Freud so that the older man had become, in W. H. Auden’s line, “no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion.”

The small details of our lives so often define why we have or haven’t become the heroes and heroines of our own ambitious dreams. What seemed right and wise at the time in not challenging my analyst was mere timidity. Yet I learned from it, and I see my decision at the time as being also a necessary protection of self in a process that was also yielding benefits. Guarding one’s own sanctuary, even in a supposedly confessional situation, is sometimes essential.

To do that, we need to learn to recognise, and honour, where that sanctuary lies. On the surface, this seems obvious, but in practice it presents us with endless situations where we have to navigate our way intuitively. Oddly, our errors, if seen clearly, are also guides to that inner truth that only we ourselves can recognise and appreciate. Wise action is a desirable thing, but failing that, wise observation is ever the great teacher.

Love isthe law, love under will,

Edward Mason

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