Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The concept of psychological projection is one that’s come strongly to the fore in the mystery schools with which I’ve studied. In no way could it replace actual magical and meditative practices, because they provide the impetus for kicking the murkier bits of the psyche into action. And that’s what opens us up to the actual Light of Gnosis.
Projection, to quote the textbook definition, is the spontaneous and unconscious process whereby we deflect awareness of our undesirable traits by denying them in ourselves while perceiving them manifested in others.
Aleister Crowley, for example, wasn’t above using his female associates and students in demanding ways, yet became apoplectic when he was told Macgregor Mathers was forcing his wife Moina “to pose naked in one of the Montmartre shows which are put on for the benefit of ignorant and prurient people.” (Confessions, Cap 46). He speaks of her as having been the Golden Dawn’s “ideal of refinement, purity, spirituality and the rest,” a description he might have scorned in other women.
I’ve long suspected that he might have confused things with the Mathers’ public Rites of Isis, which didn’t violate Moina’s spiritual integrity. But clearly what he was willing to do himself, with what he considered valid motives, led to outrage when he found a reflection of it in the actions of a man he’d come to despise.
Detachment in such matters isn’t about passivity: wanting to intervene if you see an animal or person subjected to violence will likely have subjective elements to it, but they can be analysed afterwards, when you’ve acted decisively to allay the situation in front of you. Otherwise, you end up analysing how you projected your fear of public embarrassment (or similar), while doing nothing of any use. That exercise might be enlightening, but also disillusioning.
Interpersonal projection is actually the easiest part of projection work. There’s always a visceral reaction when something’s struck an inner chord, so we can catch projections onto other individuals. The subtler work begins when we start to take apart our opinions and philosophical stances.
Deciding the world “is like this” or “should be” this way or that, is something we all do, mostly because of fear of discovering something grander to the scheme of things, or inability to do so. But realising such conclusions are things we’ve “put onto the world” isn’t easy. Why do we believe (as opposed to know) there is/is not a God, that 9/11 was/was not an inside job, or that we’ve lived multiple past lives? What in us leads us to such conclusions?
We usually cite ‘the evidence’ but in reality we pre-select our evidence because of who we are, and rarely in response to external facts. Yet asking people to review their belief systems as reflective of internal biases, not as reasonable opinions about the world, is almost as hard as getting the idle to exercise, or the casually overweight to adjust their diet. What we are, deep down, governs how we see the outer world, from the unwashed dishes in the kitchen to the stars we see on a clear night.
There’s a subtlety involved here in that our philosophies, whether grandly described with detailed examples or casually assumed, reflect something actual and gritty in us. And this is perhaps the nub of all projection work. What we see in the world around us is a reflection of who and what we actually are. Our perspectives on it all arise because we feel we should hide some things and affirm others; we have a tough time bringing the whole of our inner selves into the picture.
Anyone, if you really push them, will display a reverence for certain principles and core ideas. We all have an idea of ‘God’ in some form, even if religion itself forces us to preserve the clarity or purity of our idea under the guise of rationalism or atheism. If our idea of the Aristos, the best, is about absolute truth and honesty, then the flimsy elaborations and speculations of theology and metaphysics might drive us to distraction. We come to dislike religion precisely because we are, in one sense, religious, and feel that mass formulas and creeds violate the ultimate sanctity of what we value. Refusing gods and saviours, gurus and bodhisattvas, is necessary for maintaining the vision.
And Thelema tells us we’re right to do so … for ourselves. The mischief comes when we react badly to someone else’s statements of belief, which in turn is that individual’s maintaining of whatever vision they have. And the remedy is found in watching for projection.
It can be a long job, but it goes better when we get over the shame response (“Omigod, I have a lot of anger in me”) and recognise it’s simply a business of intricate, open-minded self-decoding.
There’s a third level of projection beyond personal attitudes and philosophical ideas. It’s harder to access, because it involves some truly primal ideas. It might be closely connected with our philosophical viewpoints, and it might stand outside them. It’s very hard to generalise about this, so I won’t.
The key point is that apart from conventional fears of bugs, disease, unemployment or annoying neighbours, we also have in us apprehensions of … Something. We might well find a means of bringing this through in a balanced or creative way, as artists or believers of one stripe or another. But there remains in most of us a sense of the Unknown – and seemingly, the Unknowable. Trying to define it more than that rather misses the point. It can be projected onto racial groups – black people, Jews and most recently, Muslims of all types have taken it on – and it can simply be put onto the general darkness, the way it lived under the bed or in the basement when we were kids. We can rationalise things with a White Light overlay (“Everything is all One”), but that’s dishonest. We need to accept the threat, the tendency toward judging, the unapproachability, or the sense of dark power – our own internal Force’s dark side, if you’re into that.
The first stage in projection work, then, is using it to comprehend the structure and elements of the personality. The second is about deconstructing the deeper level, the Individuality, through examining what ideas and perspectives we’re putting onto or into the discernible world. The third stage is coming to terms with what is inherently irrational and undefinable.
As stated above, the process can’t be done properly without steady magical and mystical practices to give it impetus. We can otherwise spend years merrily wallowing in our own interior selves while getting nowhere. And projection analysis is a technique, not a path on its own. But it’s one area where empirical methods can aid our own growth. In particular, projection work leads us to accept that there really is that within us that is operative on multiple levels, and that we can learn something of what it would like to teach us if it could “speak” otherwise.
Love is the law, love under will,