Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Thus says the 32nd verse of Chapter One, of The Book of the Law:
“Obey my prophet! follow out the ordeals of my knowledge! seek me only! Then the joys of my love will redeem ye from all pain.”
The ordeals of the Great Work seem to be obstacles, but they’re not. They represent, at bottom, a medium of communication from within.
We start out with the assumption that, from upbringing and other influences, from our genetics, from past-life karma if that notion is real to you, and from two millennia of an Aeon that is no longer relevant, we are all mis-programmed to a greater or lesser degree, and to greater or lesser degrees on different levels of our nature. We then work on breaking down that mis-programming, and allowing a new understanding to percolate.
Some of us are well-connected to our bodies, some of us are well attuned to our emotions, and some of us are aware of subtle influences from the fringes of our conscious universe. Some of us have problems visualising. Or retaining memorised information, or making logical analyses, or motivating ourselves to action, or believing there’s more to us than we can encompass within the field of consciousness.
The system we use in our Temple, which has been steadily refined since it was re-invented about 125 years ago, aims to help us improve internal communication so that we can, in time, become progressively more attuned to the underlying core of our own beings. We aim to bring each serious student to a point of close inner linkage that permits that core to communicate with our conscious selves, and perhaps ultimately, to replace it. “Core” is a term I don’t want to define closely, but leave it to each to discover.
The fact that a path of joy and self-expression makes such extensive use of apparent suffering – that is, these here ordeals – is a paradox. The key lies in accepting that what we call the personal ego has been cobbled together from a patchwork quilt of tendencies, ideas, desires and experiences to try to referee all that we are. This ego-thing does work, and a lot of people seem to be doing really well by working through their egos. They’re quite well fitted for survival on the material plane of Assiah, and those who can maintain a flexible but forceful ego perform well in terms of material success, accumulating cash and influencing other aspects of the manifest world. And in a few instances, especially where they are creative in some useful way, such people can satisfy the True Will through a well-balanced ego. It’s only us crazies, who have trouble coordinating all the stuff inside, who set out to disrupt the mundane ego’s rule. The joy side of things comes in from success in that endeavour.
These ordeals that arise come out of confronting, bit by bit, item by item, the mismatches and dissatisfactions that create our life-problems. Because each misbegotten tendency, each “contractual obligation” we have placed on ourselves to act in a way contrary to our deeper nature, or simply contrary to our animal nature, insists that it must maintain its own status quo or we will, in some undefined but scary way, suffer greatly.
Magick gives us a tool to step behind this strange, wildly woven trellis of ideas we hold to, and lets in something more complete. Eventually, by working through the so-called alchemical elements in reverse Tetragrammatical order, we establish deeper rapport with that core I was talking about, and the ordeals are seen to have brought us to the environs of the spiritual goal of the Great Work. An ordeal only goes wrong when we simply give up the effort to see it through.
A lesson I draw from all this is a reminder of a truism that was once summed up for me as: “Control is contact.” That is, we are in control of anything only to the extent that we are in contact with it. A musician can depress or pluck strings on an instrument, but there needs to be a fluency to the body’s interaction with it before there’s any actual music coming from it. Over time, the relationship with its body, its neck or soundbox or bridge and whatever other features it has, is going to penetrate to subtler and subtler levels, and what results marks the difference between competence and artistry.
But the performer himself is changed by the training, the apprenticeship. More comes out of him over time as the relationship with the instrument develops. Developing a really flexible technique provides its own set of ordeals, and there might always be technicalities that baffle him, or emotional subtleties that are forever hard to produce.
But the symbiosis between player and instrument produces in the performer its own changes. Highly proficient artists, whether painter, poet, violinist, raconteur, teacher … they all undergo a process of individuation through their work. They find out more of Who they are than most of us, because that core gradually emerges from the soup of the mind and its subconscious contracts with itself.
For the magician, in time, the quality of the ordeals themselves changes. They apply less to earning a living, or to memorising rituals, or holding a visualised image in mind for 25 seconds, and their scope becomes broader. At the same time, our overall sense of dismay at life (assuming we have one – not everyone does) diminishes as we come to terms with the limitations of our own unwieldy beings. The feeling that, “What I am is it, and it’s cool,” comes in more strongly.
If insanity is a form of internal miscommunication, then sanity requires effective contact with self – which, as stated is the basis of control. In the end, it all seems to be about learning a life-language with gradually more grammatical precision, and a broader vocabulary. I dislike my own ordeals as much as I ever did, while often coming much faster than I once did to a realisation that my only problem is misunderstanding the nature of what I need to handle. The physical is fixable, the emotional is temporary, the psychological is negotiable and the spiritual is ever-renewing.
And when we can do that, we can see, once again, how this Holy Guardian Angel-thing operates, on a vast scale of time as well as of space, that’s way beyond the range of our conscious concerns. The original signals or impulses or whatever that it puts out are ‘translated,’ if you will, by our mental machinery operating on the Yetziratic level, so that much of my own best diary content reads like the ravings of someone who’s off his meds. And the diary, organised by date and time of day, and my analysis of all this, is produced in the outward consciousness of Assiah, so by this point my record is two steps removed, at least, from the original intimations or intuitions. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to read what I’ve produced because it seems so … out there. Or alternatively, while the original input was sublime, its rendering in words reads like the sort of greeting-card twaddle some people love to post on Facebook.
Still, these original inspirations are a key aspect of the core I was writing about above. They are essential aspects of selfhood, to be known and accepted, and expressed.
Control is always contact, and effective contact with self (the diametrical opposite of the traditional Christian aim of self-denial, be it noted) is what puts me back in control of myself and in touch with Will, and starts resolving whatever ordeal I’ve been in.
And that, whisper by whisper, craziness by craziness, seems to be how this Knowledge and Conversation thing begins to work.
Love is the law, love under will,