November 14, 2014 TOLS

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

I’ve been re-reading Lawrence Sutin’s biography of Crowley, Do What Thou Wilt, and became fascinated with a passage in Chapter Eight about Leah Hirsig tormenting Crowley and forcing him to face his private demons. Sutin quotes Crowley himself on how she “discovered the physical cowardice and dread of pain which I had sunk so deep by means of daring death-mountains, wild beasts, poison, and disease.”

Leah’s solution for this was burning his chest with a cigarette, which given Crowley’s sadomasochistic side, was perhaps an ambiguous methodology. But I digress.

Sutin writes, “That very same day, Leah pressed on to a still more wrenching ordeal. This time the weakness in Crowley to be excoriated was his tendency towards ‘Bluff’ – more bluntly, his frequent and elaborate lying. In his diary, Crowley offered telling examples of this. There was his pretence to multilingual scholarship, when, by his own account, he possessed little knowledge of any foreign tongue but French – in which he was barely passable. There was his tendency to boast of his own wickedness and of the number of his mistresses.” And so on. As we all know, Crowley is famous more for the pathological side of his personality than for his incisive philosophical insights and mystical attainments.

These days, especially in regard to Eastern teachers, we’re aware of how flawed many great aspirants have been. It’s not hard to search online and find tales of gurus – Kalu Rinpoche, Roshi Richard Baker, Eli Jackson Bear, Chogyam Trungpa, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and on – who have treated their female (and male) followers as a harem. In the case of Kalu Rinpoche, his reincarnation has gone public on Youtube about being abused as a boy in the lamasery. We could see this merely as karmic payback; yet Heinrich Harrer, in Seven Years in Tibet, mentions frequent buggery of small boys in the monasteries he visited. Shangri-la, not.

All this makes me more of an advocate for Thelema, which is up front about human sexual needs, and insists in its primary scripture: “veil not your vices in virtuous words; these vices are my service…” That is, a ‘vice’ practiced openly and honestly (assuming all is consensual) ceases to be vicious, and can be dedicated to wider purposes.

But the key point is, attainment happens on one ‘level,’ or in one sphere of our existence, and then there’s another level on which our ‘lives’ happen. Crowley was confronting this in himself with Leah Hirsig’s help, and anyone who presents themselves as a spiritual teacher has a similar task, even if a woman brandishing a lit cigarette isn’t always the chosen means of redress.

There’s a line in Liber LXV (III, v. 3), the comment on which has fascinated me for years:

“Then the word of Adonai came unto me by the mouth of the Magister mine, saying: O heart that art girt about with the coils of the old serpent, lift up thyself unto the mountain of initiation!”

Crowley commented: “The Angel then speaks to the human consciousness of the Adept through the medium of his Initiated Self – otherwise he could not understand so exalted a message. He bids the man as a man (the heart, Tiphareth, the seat of the conscious Ego) acquire the point of view of the Initiate.”

Hermetic Qabalah is all about worlds and spheres and paths. It repels some people who are looking for what they deem ‘holistic,’ yet its effect over time is to provide an integrated standpoint precisely because all the bases are covered. Crowley dashed ahead so fast in his work that he didn’t take the time to explore all the ramifications of what he learned in the Golden Dawn and elsewhere, and of course there was little specific psychological information around at the time of the type with which we’re familiar today. In his day, Theravada Buddhism and yoga offered him a better way of coming to terms with his various complexes, yet it’s clear basic issues from his upbringing haunted him into his last days.

So be it. We can respect the initiated consciousness that produced both Liber LXV and its commentary, and let go the long-past missteps, traumas and battles of the first generation of Thelemites. The question is not what Crowley did or didn’t do wrong, but what we’re going to do right. Because following True Will in a meaningful sense is at least as much of a moral challenge as that faced by any Christian dealing with lifelong temptation. Staying on-track is no easy task.

As I can attest this afternoon, coming around finally to the topic I actually intended to write about when I started this post. I want to address the multiplicity we all face in ourselves, plus something I noticed just recently.

Any initiatory system based on the Tree of Life takes us through degrees or grades, depending on a given school’s preferred nomenclature. There’s usually a preliminary sorting out phase, followed by a Malkuth phase of coming to terms with life-in-the-world. Then comes the ‘astral battle’ with Yesod and the connecting path of Tav, as we start facing the demons and darkness we’ve created for ourselves. And so on. All being well, in X number of years we go through a major transition and are dubbed Adepts, and we don’t live happily ever after. But if we have kept ourselves grounded in Malkuth, we can live more purposefully and effectively from this point on.

Having been in this particular game for almost two decades, I’ve collected my share of titles, mottoes and honorifics. I could even say the whole ego-soothing business of ‘attainments’ doesn’t impress me much now, or not as it did a dozen years ago. But reviewing my career, I realised I’ve been working different Trees of Life all along.

The one where I’m officially in a given sephirah is often the outermost, because it’s the most visible to others. It provides a map, with the usual ordeals and perspectives that each path-and-sephirah combo draws out.

There’s a further Tree, much harder to discern, since it’s analogous to Crowley’s hierarchy of Angel > Magister > human consciousness, even if obviously I don’t claim Magistracy for myself. But here there are clearly levels involved, or perhaps zones of activity (or realms of light, or …) I honestly can’t say which of them is ‘me’ because they all are. The Warden-dude has a more interesting perspective than personal-Edward, even if it’s personal-Edward who gets the blame and the praise when that Other Self does or says things. However, this second Tree is only evident in its Middle Pillar sephiroth; it’s also far less distinct to the inner gaze than full Tree might be.

Then there’s a third Tree. I tried to decide whether it’s my personal Tree, or whether it’s an inner, spiritual one, and finally concluded that it’s really a summation of things. With this Tree, I spent several years in my twenties going through an equivalent to the lower four sephiroth as a member of The Process, a neo-Gnostic group of the 1960s-70s, which taught me a measure of self-knowledge and certain ‘life hacks.’

After an interrugnum to raise a family, and inwardly digest the prior experiences, I went through slow but discernible phases that I can relate to the higher sephiroth. This had nothing to do with claiming titles of Adeptus-this or -that. And while its rhythm in the past twenty years relates to my Qabalistic work, it doesn’t coincide neatly with the sequence of sephiroth I’ve been in ‘officially.’ It’s been a background process, and more significant for being so.

Probably, integration is the hardest task initiates have. An experience, a vision, some kind of transcendence … these things have little purpose if they remain red-starred passages in our magical diaries, or simply fond memories. Finding the place or state where it can all be aligned and deployed is the real task, and this occurs outside of technical spiritual training per se, even if it is the goal of it.

The Angel itself, Adonai, the God-self, is the operative factor in this, not our personal selves, except to the extent that we’re open and perceptive. The Tree system, to paraphrase the Liber LXV quote, is necessary because we can’t understand so exalted a message without an interlocutor. But however extensive our curriculum vitae in the Mysteries turns out to be, the real attainment is going to be the ability to keep silent and wait. Most Trees grow slowly.

Love is the law, love under will,

Edward Mason

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