September 30, 2012 TOLS

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

Harold Bloom has long been my favourite iconoclast. The octogenarian professor of literature and the humanities (he still teaches literature at Yale University) is one of the most astute observers of religion and its impact on human beings that I’ve come across, and certainly the most richly articulate. You don’t read Bloom’s prose, you savour it, re-reading his sentences to catch all the nuances he is putting in, and the provocative suggestions he is throwing out. His style is the utter antithesis of haiku.

Of all his books, The American Religion is the one I wish was more widely read. Fifteen years after he produced it, he wrote a “coda to a coda” for Newsweek, that summarises his thesis. This is, that Christianity proper is almost unknown in the United States, having as its substitute an “amalgam of shamanistic Orphism, Enthusiasm, and Gnosticism.” His own prophetic gift is shown by the fact he caught this wave as it was about to break out in full cry once more, in 1992.

In the article he notes, “From Reagan through Bush II, we are encouraged to emancipate our selfishness, and many of us have done exactly that, including Clinton when he abolished: ‘Welfare as we know it.’ The American Jesus has no anxieties about rich men and camels together passing through the eye of a needle.”

It’s little wonder that what Crowley was charged to spread has grown faster on the left-hand side of the Atlantic Ocean than it has elsewhere. It fits Bloom’s thesis to a Thelemic T, and then fulfils it.

The danger in this Aeon is not that we will fall back into mediocrity again, because mediocrity is for the mediocre, and those who choose a road of individuation will continue to walk it because they feel they must. Rather, the risk is that we will fall into the other trap Bloom notes, where we become so self-absorbed that we lose sight of the other. (Bloom, a secular Jew, has little brief for standard Christianity, if it seems that that’s what he’s advocating).We separate ourselves from the poor and the sad, the outcast and the unfit, but in so doing we can fall into narcissism, where no-one else is of much significance in any way.

The first Chapter of the Book of the Law is, surely, cautionary in that it sets the scene for the whole. Here, the Goddess of Totality is presented, and we are enjoined to seek Her love, the love of the All, which means we also have to deal with the other stars that make up the All.

After it comes the Chapter of Hadit, urging us away from mass-mindedness, which is far from being the same as ‘humanity.’ For we can only live and move in relation to the other stars around us, and we are always and forever realising and perfecting our understanding of our Wills by means of such relations, as well as liberating others from the mass-mind as we do so. The alternative is a head-trip, and becoming lost in self-admiration at the lowest level. The third Chapter, finally, is about the later struggles (the ‘war’ and the ‘vengeance’) between the realised Ruach and its increasing absorption into the vastness of the supernal soul, the Neshamah, as well as the life-force and essence of Will, the Chiah, after that.

Here, there is none of the petty-mindedness of the American Religion Bloom both celebrates and castigates. The person seeking the mind-stunning challenge of what Chapter III represents will already be familiar with “shamanistic Orphism,” will have felt the surge of “Enthusiasm” (Bloom means evangelical ranting, not the energised enthusiasm of Thelemic magick, though they share an essence in common) and, most definitely, will have attained to Gnostic insight.

Bloom analyses and describes his concept in lengthy, discursive prose that forces the reader to use imagination and intelligence. Some people hate his style while being mesmerised by his insight, something he shares with Crowley. He takes apart the cultural background spirituality to which any North American, many Canadians and Mexicans included, is subject. In so doing, he offers some useful clues about the traps to avoid, particularly by looking at American authors, from Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson through to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith (Smith especially, and brilliantly) and the ground their life’s work covered. If his tendency to repeat himself can grate, there is still plenty of meat on the bone in this hefty book. He would not, I’m sure, identify himself as Thelemic. But as the iconoclast I noted him as being in my first paragraph, he long ago found his own way and his own Will. “Write, & find ecstasy in writing!” says II., v. 66, and he lives up to that.

Love is the law, love under will.

Edward Mason

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