Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law
The traditional pattern of initiation in the system our Temple (and others) teaches begins in the World of Assiah, a term variously translated as ‘manifestation’ or ‘action.’ Thus, the lowest four spheres on the Tree of Life, corresponding to the elemental degrees, are primarily explored within this manifestation-realm. In practice, this means that progressively deeper levels of the personality are opened up ceremonially, and the aspirant is set a curriculum that enables him or her to develop an increasing familiarity with these levels, and with hitherto concealed or inaccessible aspects of selfhood.
A fellow occultist used to be berate me on the fact that we were “psychologising magick” by doing this. Rather than teaching people how and what to invoke and later to evoke, he insisted, we were putting the emphasis on matters that were highly subjective and were thus entangling ourselves further in the mind and the mundane ego.
His point would have carried more authority if, after he left the order both of us belonged to, he had pursued his studies, no longer encumbered by such ‘psychologising.’ But of course, his complaint amounted to resisting examining his own no-go areas. Once he gave himself free rein to ignore such things, they themselves had the free rein, and his will was constantly distracted and deflected. The last I heard, he was pontificating on spiritual philosophy from his parents’ basement.
Many people feel great reluctance to join occult fraternities. And given how such fraternities are often known best for the shadow aspects of human psychology that emerge – schisms, egomaniacal adepts and consequent online flame-wars – that’s hardly surprising. Taking yourself apart in a context like a sealed order means the ‘fun’ stuff will be drawn out from hiding, and sometimes it can spill beyond the astral wards that are cast to constrain and protect the order. This is one of those ordeals orders sometimes have to endure.
The role of order leadership can be tough in such cases, because people enacting disruptive or inflammatory behaviour may be manifesting something present in the group mind, not just in their own. And since it’s emerging in a nasty form, that means whatever is coming out has been ignored or disowned in some way by almost everyone else. Orders are often tested, or rather they test themselves, by such upheavals. The ones that survive are those where the leaders are sensible enough to ride out the fuss; and also where they remember the foibles of human psychology they found in themselves and their companions on their own way up the ladder, and use them to teach something useful.
In an ideal world, or an ideal order anyway, perhaps occasional ego-clashes and feelings of aggrandisement would be absent. But where most eastern systems keep the lid on by devaluing the ego completely, or bypass it with heavy attention on compassion and the blessings of the guru or lama, Thelema grants the ego considerable latitude. Activity within the world is an integral part of the Thelemic lifestyle. If people are living in the mundane world, not a retreat centre, an ego is a useful thing to have as a constructive interface.
The human personality, with its complexes, dreams and fears, is a constant in our magical careers. Magicians use it, rather than repressing it. The risks are there up-front, but in the long run, the essential danger is ego-inflation, not having a bad day (or night). And the antidote for inflation consists of doing what my long-ago friend wouldn’t, which is monitoring what emerges from our own speech and action.
Know thine inner jerk.
But this process should not be seen simply as fixing or correcting ‘flaws.’ That’s really Old Aeon thinking – that we are somehow sinning by being ‘bad,’, and must stop. The only sin, The Book of the Law reminds us, is restriction, which in this case would be hiding what we are from ourselves. As the Book says, “… veil not your vices in virtuous words: these vices are my service; ye do well, & I will reward you here and hereafter.” (II, v. 52). That is, they are natural energies or tendencies that, because of their repression or concealment in some form, are perverted from their essential functions. Brought out and aligned as parts of ourselves, they are empowering and uplifting, and no longer toxic to us or those around us. The primary forces used in magick relate intimately to our hidden sides, and releasing pain and shame around them allows the magick to point us to the ultimate Goal.
Obviously, such realigning is difficult and prolonged, because rehabilitating ourselves from useless old habits is tough. That’s where we have to psychologise magick, or we will start to spill beyond our own wards, and maybe those of our orders.
The upside here is that those who can perform self-inspection and self-discipline become the real adepts in due season. The aim in this work is to control our own universe – that which is within and around us, and in so doing, ultimately to help raise consciousness in the other stars in whose company we travel. Even then, any serious aspirant will lose it temporarily at some point. There are times of attainment, and times when we seem to be back in oblivion or futility and pettiness.
But this is how lasting adeptship is attained: not by becoming ever more proficient at ceremonial or invocation per se, but by training the psyche to be master of itself. And that means walking the whole path of the serpent, through shadow and through light, and through conflict as well as harmony, learning to take both as essential.
A Hermetic order is not for everyone. But in the final analysis, some things that seem a turn-off about working with others in a group are what provide the really invaluable interactions. Bringing the ‘vices’ into service, and releasing their constrained vitality for constructive ends, is a much better road than that which leads back to our parents’ basement.
Love is the law, love under will.