Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
This time of year, even for the religiously indifferent, is the time of the Birth of the Saviour. According to a couple of the Gospels, Jesus was born to Mary without his father’s physical involvement, Dad having tried already to divorce her quietly when she turned out to be pregnant before they consummated their marriage.
To my mind, the whole pre-natal account of the Messiah’s birth indicates incipient family dysfunction, and Joseph’s disappearance from the story early on could be confirmation of that. And Jesus got pretty testy on the topic of divorce when it arose (Matthew 19, vv 3-12).
But I digress, because what I’m trying to talk about is salvation, which is the theme of the season. And I’m not sure that very many of us in the Thelemic fold (or goat-pen) really have our heads wrapped around the idea that this isn’t what we’re after.
The perceived need for salvation is a strong one. Economic uncertainty is a constant background hum. What do we do about the polarisation of Islam and the post-Christian West? Which unhinged narcissist might be the next President and Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces? And so on.
The sense of being apart from what we long for, or how we feel things should be, is strong. We’re still likely a generation or two from losing the notion that we need to be redeemed in some form, which of course implies a redeemer. Freud, Jung, Gandhi, Leary, the Dalai Lama and fifty others beside have taken on the mantle in the past century, but it doesn’t stick to any of them; not even Crowley, if we read him aright.
The reason is, we’re moving into the post-salvation era.
The idea of the Aeons was expounded by Crowley as much from his reading of The Golden Bough, by Sir James Frazer, as it was from the terse indications in The Book of the Law. The first edition came out in 1890, not long after the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn began, and it was certainly one of the texts that fed into that order’s expanding concepts. This book was essentially the first to place the Gospel story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the context of anthropological scholarship rather than historical fact, and Frazer had to deal with a firestorm of criticism from churchmen as a result. It’s little wonder Crowley valued the book.
The myth of the dying Saviour gods, Attis, Osiris, Dionysius and the rest, still colours our attitudes. Even Islam has its concept of the Mahdi, who is going to come and precipitate the time of judgement, though the idea is barely hinted at in the Quran. Especially when we’re down – rejected by lovers, missing friends or lost pets, confused, or threatened by money trouble (the primary theme of the modern Christmas) – we look for salvation, and redeemers.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help at such times. Seeking constructive assistance is still “causing change to occur in conformity with will.” The key thing is that the actual asking be done with a viable goal in mind: lend me a limited amount of cash I can repay, offer me your counsel, or your company for an evening. Thelema does not, despite some silly misunderstandings, cancel out the concept of human community or mutual assistance. There’s no difference, in principle, between invoking a helpful spirit by ritual means, or sending a text message to a human. But we need to ask with the primary intention of reconnecting to our own resources.
“Dost thou fail? Art thou sorry? Is fear in thine heart? Where I am these are not.” Thus our Book’s third chapter, vv. 46-47. It’s easy to see those lines as implying a judgement, but they simply reflect reality. Stumble into a persistent sense of futility, or self-criticism, and Hadit, the dynamic principle of participation, is necessarily absent. In order to bring it back, we need to act, in whatever manner seems appropriate, and to whatever extent we can in a bad moment.
Losing our way is an essential part of the life-process. Each time we do it we learn more about how the True Will shows itself in life. Reversing a lingering mood of oppression doesn’t happen just with a conscious act of will, or one invocation of a spirit, but it begins with something along those lines. And while the invocation may look like prayer directed to a redeemer, magicians know it’s about bringing in an aspect of the life-totality we call the Holy Guardian Angel.
There’s a curious aspect to the tangled muddle we call the outer personality, or the mundane ego: it’s the anti-Hadit. Its nature is to obscure, confuse and block. “ ‘Come unto me is a foolish word: for it is I that go,” says Hadit (II, v 7). The ego, though, doesn’t want to go anywhere: it wants to sit and have everything to come to it.
“The idea of incarnations ‘perfecting’ a thing originally perfect by definition is imbecile,” Crowley says in his commentary to The Book of the Law: “The only sane solution is as given previously, to suppose that the Perfect enjoys experience of (apparent) Imperfection.”
To which we could add his other observation: “The uninitiate is a ‘Dark Star,’ and the Great Work for him is to make his veils transparent by ‘purifying’ them. This ‘purification’ is really ‘simplification;’ it is not that the veil is dirty, but that the complexity of its folds makes it opaque. The Great Work therefore consists principally in the solution of complexes. Everything in itself is perfect, but when things are muddled, they become ‘evil’.”
The Christmas season especially, with its over-emphasis on joy, love and generosity easily activates such a complex and produces the diametrical opposite: loss, loneliness or some other shrinking away from the Light within. Even if we no longer feel at all moved by the usual birth-of-the-Redeemer story, we may find we’re looking for an equivalent.
The last Aeon centred on the concept of receptivity to Grace. This could not, as I understand the idea of prayer, be produced. It could only requested after repentance for our having in some manner previously excluded it.
The thrust of this Aeon isn’t receptive but projective: to align with the inner Divinity, move forward, and go. Change is incessant, and every change that’s embraced is found to be an act of love.
Expressed as a concept, that can seem cold. As an actuality, pursued without fanfare, it can banish the shadows, and the old need for Someone to make everything right.