Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The American literary critic Harold Bloom has a fascination with the personality of Yahweh in the Tanakh, which Christians would call the Old Testament. Yet the man could well disagree with what I’ve just said because he is quite insistent that the Tanakh, as written, understood and studied by a hundred generations of Jews, is a quite different text to the OT, which Christians see through a series filters deriving, ultimately, from Plato or the neo-Platonists, and secondarily through that Greek-influenced theologian St. Paul, who changed everything, including the nature and history of his supposed mentor, Jesus of Nazareth.
I’m currently on my fourth or fifth reading of Jesus and Yahweh: the Names Divine, which Bloom published a decade ago. I’d previously read his The Book of J, about the Yahwist narrative in the Torah that was elaborated into a broader philosophical structure after the time of the Babylonian Captivity, and had been deeply intrigued by it, so I bought this book when it came out. Raised in a religious, Yiddish-speaking household in New York City, Bloom partly taught himself to read English as his third language, biblical Hebrew being his second, and went on to write a score of books in his adopted tongue. He is a respected master of Shakespearian literary scholarship, and it’s as a literary scholar rather than as a theologian, let alone a believer, that he approaches the Bible in its various redactions.
I claim slight kinship with the man in that both of us are, or have been, haunted by the notion of ‘God.’ Bloom, while apparently lacking belief in or personal experience of sacred mysteries, yet calls himself a Jewish gnostic, working from we could call a passionately perceptive view of humanity’s relationship to the divine entities we have produced to explain or resolve the paradoxes of life and death. I take his self-label of ‘gnostic’ to refer to a person with a desire to feel a connection with what he writes on, rather than just analyse it. Still, his view of Yahweh, God the Father and the various versions of Jesus in the canonical Gospels and the Gnostic ones, the Book of Mormon included, is that of the literary scholar, so he is free to look on these figures as literary creations rather than as cosmic forces that we must worship or reject. Compared to the angst of trying to rid ourselves of belief that has deep roots, it’s a refreshing tack.
Thelema, seen through the writings of Aleister Crowley, requires rejection of these figures, positing a quasi-God in Horus, the Child who is the progenitor of the current Aeon. I say quasi-God because he’s seen more an archetype or pattern, a blueprint for human apotheosis, than were the gods of the earlier two Aeons, and it’s possible to be a full-on atheist while acknowledging Horus as “the lord initiating.”
Much of Thelema’s wrangling with Christianity and Christians was initially about rejecting the idea of rules and regulations, especially regarding sexual freedom. Over recent decades, this evolved into what I have to see as a rather quirky confrontation with the dominance of Christian ideas of right and wrong held by various factions in the USA. The confrontation becomes less awkward when we realise we’re far from alone and that many ideas Thelemites have embraced for a century are today proclaimed by non-believers. Our minuscule numbers then become less relevant to the contest; for in reality, Jesus-believers will dismiss us utterly, except to create farcically mean-spirited videos about Crowley for YouTube. But we’re still on the fringes, demographically speaking, and after the sense of finally joining one’s true community passes, there can be (indeed, probably should be) a recurrent wondering about whether we’re too far out here.
This is where I personally find Bloom helpful. As a lapsed Jew, he was never remotely identified with American Christianity, and is perceptive enough to deny that there is, or ever could be, such a thing as a Judaeo-Christian tradition. Judaism is based in the Torah and the Tanakh generally, along with a deeply entrenched body of interpretation of it. Christianity, while appropriating the Tanakh as its Old Testament, rearranging or deleting some of it (such as the books of the Maccabees) and throwing in a bunch of Greek-influenced theology that Jesus the Galilean would and could never have spouted to his fellow Jews, is a creation far divorced from the older Hebrew text.
More than any denunciation of Christian intolerance or hypocrisy, taking apart Yahweh as a figure utterly unlike the largely irrelevant God the Father pulls the foundations away from the Christian conceit. The faith of the churches has, Bloom insists most elegantly, only a tenuous connection with the people of Israel and their irascible and unpredictable God. His finding of parallels between Yahweh, Jesus, and Shakespearian characters such as King Lear or Hamlet provides further breathing room between the still insistent presence of the Christian Deity and the human condition of our time. Once we see clearly that we ourselves created our gods (albeit without cynical calculation), the way any author develops his literary protagonist, the whole game takes on a clearer perspective.
Bloom can be repetitive in his writing, and stuck, perhaps, in one perspective; yet aren’t we all? The idea of True Will fundamentally requires that: find your groove, and keep digging it until you’ve cleared a deep, broad space. His independence of mind is, for my money, worth the reiterations.
The viciousness of the Christian right, backed by too much money, has kept the outmoded Jesus the Christ alive in our times, so that He won’t go gentle into that good night, but hangs on in what seems like an endless rearguard action. And Bloom is alert to the fact that Yahweh, in the guise of a freshly militant Allah, has reasserted himself in one segment of the world’s population. The Aeon of Horus is established, but it’s nowhere near becoming the dominant paradigm. The journey from appreciating that “man has created God” to realising that “man is God” is far from over yet.
We who claim The Book of the Law as the key text for our era and for the foreseeable future have no problem in noting that Aleister Crowley, the primary interpreter of it, proclaimed himself an author and poet. Other Magi and prophets disdained the role, fearing it could relegate their inspired writings to the realm of fiction. Bloom up-ends the embarrassing aspects of this idea, since he’s lived by the notion that literature expresses the deepest conceptual realities our culture has produced, including our gods, while most theologians would argue that religion is what inspires literature. If the God of our fathers (or mothers) is still a problem, and the in-your-face opposition of aggressive atheists doesn’t fully answer the stubbornly lingering tropes of the Aeon of Osiris, seeing how to take apart how that God has been created and sustained is a considerable help.
Most of all, viewing humanity’s spiritual quest outside of the hopelessness of power struggles and intolerance of difference, and the tired and tiresome insistence that our projected parent-figure is objectively real, can offer useful support in establishing a Thelemic perspective for ourselves. And for me, the notion that we have all been living in a vast, unbelievably complex novel, with ourselves comprising the galaxy of its authors while we project the storyline onto the immense canvas of our immemorial mind, is fascinating. Bloom wouldn’t, perhaps, take his own ideas that far. Yet his ability to discern patterns in how we interpret what we ourselves are forever creating, while recognising that we have produced a tale beyond what any one of us might imagine alone, always prods some serious thinking out of me, as well as respect for a mind that can range that far off the main track while being so firmly rooted in western consciousness.
Love is the law, love under will,