Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
There’s light and darkness on any spiritual path. Check out the iconography of Tibetan Buddhism, or of the Hindu Tantras, or read the classics of Christian devotional mysticism if you don’t see it (and remember how Crowley was a fan of Molinos’ The Spiritual Guide, a classic of Christian quietism). In Thelema there’s a frequent tendency to rejoice in the dark (i.e., scary or naughty) imagery. I risk being dubbed a ‘white light’ Thelemite for saying this, but populating the dark with projections from the murkier corners of the id doesn’t strike me as useful, and shows, to my mind, a lack of critical thinking.
You can see Babalon, the Scarlet Woman, solely as a psycho-centrefold, or imagine the Beast not as the noblest of creatures but as a refugee from a low-budget horror movie. There are plenty of Youtube videos that will support your viewpoint, if you’re not good at creative visualisation. As well, you can find occult systems that back up such a perspective. And all of us at a certain point need to explore the dark areas, for half our power and much else of our nature may have been orphaned into the gutters or basements of the psyche.
But in and of themselves, such approaches can become dead-ends, not because the truth lies in the white-light zone, but because such perspectives fall short of the totality we’re after. The Unknown is unknown precisely because it extends far beyond any of our fantasies.
When we first confront the Unknown, we reflexively produce such pictures as part of our total growth process: the Night is the perfect screen for such projections of disowned bits of ourselves. Or, we learn to face it, perhaps over a very extended period of time, until we begin to grasp that it is not empty at all: it simply extends way beyond our ability to imagine, with our limited imaginations, except in terms of projected scary symbolism. But a key factor in spiritual growth is learning to live in and with darkness and silence, and these become progressively more significant; at least, they do as we work a Tree of Life-based spiritual program. Just as the Solar Light is the goal of every new aspirant to the Gnosis, so the Adepti find themselves increasingly oriented toward the Night of Pan.
There are two key quotes that have always impressed me on this topic. One is a from St. John of the Cross, who opens the 12th Chapter of The Dark Night of the Soul by observing, “We can therefore understand that just as this dark night of loving fire purges in darkness, it also in darkness does its work of enkindling.” People often glibly refer to a bad patch (a lovers’ break-up combined with a pet dying or lay-off at work) as their Dark Night, but John had something else entirely in mind. His audience was not a bunch of 17th Century New Age dilettantes, but Carmelite monks and nuns living a life of intense, prayerful devotion, and who were getting close to the goal of their quest.
My other key quote is from The Book of the Heart Girt With a Serpent, Liber LXV (Cap I, v 12): “Then was there silence. Speech had done with us awhile. There is a light so strenuous that it is not perceived as light.”
This verse has fascinated me for many years. Any serious practice eventually pushes us into phases where we are confounded by the apparent absence of anything intelligible. We don’t come, as we expect, to the place of Light and certainty, but to one of impenetrable darkness and silence.
How any of us make it through this is governed by karma; that is, by the training and commitment we’ve put in, and the honesty of our aspirations. Knowledge, esoteric or mundane, isn’t much use here, since the intellect feels like it’s been disconnected; while ego is partially or mostly suspended, and more to the point, is powerless. It has no means of negotiation with the darkness, and nothing to offer. Nor is anything offered. The darkness, as St. John says, does its work of enkindling, but we have little or no choice in the matter apart from to keep on keeping on.
What will happen, after a time (which could be years) is that finally we appreciate That which is in the darkness or silence; or more simply, That which the darkness is. Previously, like astronomers a century ago grasping the existence of other galaxies, we might have had no prior appreciation that there was anything that ‘big’ out there / in here. Thelemites are arch-skeptics, and often we need to be whacked over the head before we believe there’s more to all this than ourselves. There are many I’ve met who refuse, for example, to believe there is an HGA, beyond some 3.1 version of themselves. And there’s no sense arguing the point, until the reality one day becomes inescapable.
Hermetically speaking, the concept of alchemical water can be critical here. Water as a symbol is connected with darkness as well as depth. There is the path of Nun/Scorpio, corresponding to the Death card in Tarot, to be crossed; the path of Mem, Water itself, linking the sephiroth Hod and Geburah, comes later; and the ocean of the sephirah Binah. Immersion in alchemical Water – saturation, even – is a necessary precursor to full spiritual awakening. But this sequence is only workable to the extent we allow ourselves to be baffled, and not a little afraid, at each further encounter.
Everyone who ventures out on the path encounters these states, first of stillness and absence of sensory stimuli, and finally an emptiness beyond mere blackness. But these are essentially psychological realities, made necessary by the mind’s inability to encompass what is beyond its current reality. I’ve seen comments by people who deny there is such a thing as an Abyss to cross to reach Binah, and in one sense this is true. The Abyss consists of the conceptual jump whereby we abandon the ‘actual,’ which is illusory, for the ideal, which is real. By all accounts, it’s a very long jump for most who attempt it.
To persist in the Great Work is to continue grasping for ever broader ideas, or non-ideas. As with our current conception of the physical Universe, as something expanding at an ever greater rate, so the magician finds no defined nor definable limit to the quest. Rather, the horizon of possible experience always extends further than the mind can reach at any given time. It necessarily seems dark, empty, and uncommunicative. Faced with this, separate from specific magical invocations made for specific purposes, we can elaborate it with dark imaginings, as another St. John, the one who wrote the text we call Revelations, did two millennia ago. His fantastic imagery of a world being destroyed and made anew is, it’s been suggested several times, the reflexive response of a partly trained mind to an overwhelming encounter with ‘the Silence of God.’ Chapter Eight says, after the final ‘seal’ (chakra or spiritual centre) has been opened, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” Even the author of this work, psychotically creative with his symbolism, was dumbstruck to the point he had nothing to project onto his experience at that moment.
The central point I want to make here is that, once the darkness, the Silence, the Night, arises, we can benefit enormously if we’re able to withhold projecting images, rationalisations, or raw fear onto it. This requires self-discipline, but without that we won’t get far in any case. In time the Voice of the Silence will speak, perhaps and probably without what we think of as words; and it can, if we’re still enough within ourselves, tell us what we’ve previously never thought we could know or believe.
Love is the law, love under will,