Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Qabalistic training requires extensive memorisation of symbol sets: planetary, alchemical, angelic, Archangelic, God-Name, and on. One reason for this is to equip future magicians with a full occult vocabulary to access and interpret magical experiences. More intimately, it’s to aid each of us in learning to speak “symbolese,” so that even when we aren’t performing specific rituals – especially, in fact – we’re open to developing communication with the Macrocosm. A huge part of our task as initiates is in learning to “speak” the language of symbols.
A symbol, for esoteric purposes, is an image, an idea, an arrangement of things or events, that conveys far more than the literal significance of such a thing would imply. As a general principle, we can say that a symbol is a communication from one of the higher Qabalistic worlds to a lower one, usually into the world of Assiah, or Manifestation. In order to convey ideas that can’t “work” in Assiah, symbols employ imagery and concepts that are familiar to our everyday selves, but in unusual arrangements. Interpretation of dreams is a difficult subject, because it means stretching our attitudes to accept contradictory or paradoxical ideas. But over time, an initiate learns to deal with the higher worlds interpenetrating the lower.
One reason we value the Tree of Life so centrally is because it so flexibly accommodates so much information. You need to have some sense why a dog might be assigned to Yesod, a horse to Chesed or a cat to Netzach, but once you feel confident that you intuitively grasp the why of such things, you’ll find a lot of interesting and helpful cross-referencing happening.
Even more to the point, working with sets of symbols activates the unconscious levels of mind, so that we start to find we know things we never heard or figured out for ourselves. The information is just there for us, and perhaps as importantly, for others with whom we can share it.
The critical thing, though, is that a symbol has validity in at least two, and sometimes all, of the four Qabalistic worlds. The actual concepts or imagery – people you know or have heard of, animals, trees, inanimate objects – addresses the world of Assiah, where we expect something clearly coherent. But in a dream, a fantasy or an astral vision, there’s a significance embodied in that image which relates to certain potencies that might not obviously relate to such an image as seen via your conscious attitudes and assumptions. That content, from the world of Formation, Yetzirah, is what gives the image its special distinctiveness.
And in turn, if it’s a truly significant symbol, it has its roots in the world of Creation, B’riah, where archetypal ideas coalesce and seek to express themselves. When we encounter or see or hear a symbol with major potency, it’s probably rooted in B’riah, or even in the world of Origins, Atziluth, behind that. So much of what we aim for in our system relates to the gradual transfer of the core of our attention from Assiah to B’riah, and from B’riah to an appreciation of where ideas and inspirations come from, the world of Origins. All our talk about Knowledge and Conversation aims at this shift, this opening, to “thoughts” that aren’t our own, in any sensible definition of the idea of personal things.
Crowley wanted his A.A. students to become knowledgeable in basic science, in history, in mythologies, and in the classics. The Holy Guardian Angel has a virtually infinite amount of information to impart to us, so it needs to use an immense variety of images, ideas, racial memories or oddball stuff in order to communicate that expanse of knowledge. Samadhi itself requires a high degree of intelligence, or the brain is unable to connect up enough synapses at one time in order to coordinate and convey the experience we call illumination or realisation. Extensive experience with non-rational symbolic content prepares it for the experience.
In the previous Aeon, this was one reason why the Bible was so fat: there needed to be enough instructions, legends, wise sayings and analogies, for the prayerful student to have access to an extensive “database” of spiritual perspectives. This was augmented by stories of the saints and martyrs, whose various ways of living and dying provided extensive content to open the mind of the aspirant.
In Thelema, we study all kinds of different mythologies, including the slowly accreting myths around the movement’s founding generation. They are the saints of our line of teachers, and their stories are instructional for us: a good anecdote about something Crowley or Frater Achad or one of the students in Cefalu did or said can convey symbolic meaning. Frank Bennett responding to a casual remark by Crowley, and yelling and leaping into the sea is one case in point; another might be Crowley invoking a spirit into Leila Waddell so that she played her violin sublimely, or the distracted Victor Neuberg’s struggle with Chrononzon at dagger-point as Crowley crossed the Abyss via Zax, the 10th Aethyr, in the Tunisian desert.
But there’s a caveat to point out to anyone embarking on a journey into comprehending symbols: that is, we’re in a time of enormous flux. The Aeon of Horus is still establishing itself, even if its basic hold on human evolution is now undeniable. This means that symbols can be hard to interpret simply because they reflect ambiguity and uncertainty, or ideas not yet fully explored or realised. While the general principle that the superconscious Neshamah will steer the conscious self towards greater breadth of understanding holds true, many symbols can seem threatening. In some cases, nightmares aren’t simply reflections of deep-seated anxiety, but present new ideas that are still uncongenial, trying to break through to conscious comprehension.
Disturbing symbols, then, aren’t just a sign of disorder or phobias. They can be important communications that will need time to establish themselves as familiar ideas. That’s one reason why Crowley’s writings can be tough to understand: he’s often speaking from a viewpoint that embraces the contradictions we’re going to unveil. It’s a viewpoint that, thankfully, went well beyond the usual assumptions we make about what we so euphemistically call “shadow material.”
And this is why magical training starts with the personal psyche, and focuses on psychological phenomena in the early stages. The requirement is for us to back out of our usual assumptions and perspectives, and to permit them to undergo transformation from within. This is accomplished by the symbolism of our system breaking down those assumptions and perspectives. Once that work is fully under way, we can start to move further away from the personal psyche, into the transpersonal realms, and closer to the Presence of the Holy Guardian Angel.
Love is the law, love under will,