Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Reason is often a contentious topic in Thelema. The two injunctions regarding reason in the second chapter of the Book of the Law are quite clear:
2, 27: … there is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason.
2: 32 Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown; & all their words are skew-wise.
This injunctions don’t pose an easy concept to process. We can grasp the idea that intellect follows its own rules, which are socially and culturally conditioned: we don’t, for example, think like Ancient Greeks or Medieval theologians, because our assumptions aren’t theirs. Our modern reason, however, is useful for designing software or fixing a leak in the bathroom plumbing, and uses some concepts unknown to our forebears.
Spiritual truth, though, can’t fit into the constraints of “A+B = C, therefore C-A = B.” Truth in itself is beyond the verbal, beyond syllogisms, and beyond anyone’s ability to state it. Once stated, it turns into an assertion, an almost-truth, cut off from its transcendent foundation. It might be interesting or useful, but it’s no longer capital-T Truth.
Moving past reason is especially a problem for more intelligent people. Smart ones can make quick assessments, and fast comparisons, but none of us, on our own, can easily circumvent our existing ways of thinking. I grapple with my own obtuseness on this all the time, and have to remind myself what my former teacher once said:
“Our intellect isn’t at all who we are, it’s the way we’ve structured the pathways of movement of who we are.”
Spiritual insight or realisation come to us when those pathways of movement are stilled, or at least temporarily realigned. “Cool ideas” aren’t necessarily the same thing as such insights.
One way of subverting the reasoning mind is simple disruption: a method once (and sometimes still) known as sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Crowley tried the first two, but died too early for the third. But plenty of people have made up for what he missed out on.
Certainly these are important methods for showing us what lies outside conventional thinking and attitudes. I’m skeptical, however, that they necessarily do more than indicate that other ways of being are possible. Drugs wear off, and sometimes (in my experience) they’re not as helpful as their advocates claim. Good sex definitely opens portals, but most of us have to accept a lot of mediocre sex to get to them. Music is equally unpredictable, even if it too can wrench us open. On what level that happens depends on multiple factors, not just the decibel levels or bourgeoisie-offending lyrics or gestures. Using it to evoke violent ideas has, for sure, been cathartic for many people, going back a long way. But popular music, whatever the style or the performers, is a thing of time and place that doesn’t always hold up well over the years. As someone formed by the 1960s, I know only too well how one decade’s rebel is the next’s embarrassing cliché.
Spiritual practices offer a more arduous alternative, but also a more reliably lasting one. There’s always a “factor infinite & unknown” operative in Qabalistic magick and mysticism, and this is what ultimately and most effectively subverts our perpetually self-reinforcing and self-justifying reasoning. The mind itself stops, maybe just for microseconds, and is jolted sideways by the realisation that it’s been operating on really arbitrary lines, in an incessantly circular conversation. Reason can’t think outside of its own box, because it IS the box. It can only stop, and be replaced by a Big Something that’s not box-shaped, and which fits with no available language.
In particular, such truth often embraces two or more ideas that, looked at logically, are mutually exclusive. Crowley reminds us that eventually, we come to the point where atheism and theism, monism or pantheism can be equally valid (or invalid) ways of describing the same Truth, once it’s been realised and faced in all its implications.
Truth comes to us out of Silence, because Silence means the reason has shut up for a time. We might need more than a few such experiences to make us grasp the point, but one day we understand that reason is a lie simply because it’s inadequate. Or, as someone whose name I forget once put it, “Transcendence is homeless, because it can’t live in our reasoning minds.”
Love is the law, love under will,
* “Petri, conteram cithera tua!” is Qabalistic dog-Latin for “Pete, smash your guitar!” The reference might be lost on people who were not formed by the 1960s.