Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The first twenty-one years of my life were spent in England. I left it for good in 1972, and spent the next thirty-seven years in Canada, living in and around Toronto. Last month I went back to the UK for my first extended visit in four decades.
When you live somewhere, you don’t necessarily have strong impressions of how it’s changing. I know how Toronto was in decades past, but I witnessed it becoming a more cosmopolitan city and then, to some extent, lose its creative edge and spark in the new century as its downtown became engulfed by condo towers. I lived through its changes.
Revisiting my birthplace, however, and wandering round neighbourhoods I’d lived in, I had no such long-term experience of the transformations. It was all there at once, one massive shift. Residential towers have gone up; churches, department stores and cinemas are gone. The centre of the town is utterly different; and of course I was seeing old homes and neighbourhoods with the eyes of late adulthood, not those of youth.
The topic of Britain’s exit from the European Union was, by tacit consent with my debate-weary family, mostly off the table. It was also inescapable, since the entire country is appalled by its government’s failure to complete the process after three bruising years. Yet, precisely because the UK has been part of Europe since not long after I left it, the changes that occurred there are too easily blamed on Europe and its bureaucracy rather than on epochal shifts happening throughout the world. Canada too, for example, has seen a major demographic shift, a gradual loss of sovereignty, and a feeling that something at the roots is absent.
Because Christianity has been losing its grip on the western countries for some time, we don’t always realise what’s been lost. And even with the grumpy white men doing what they can to hold onto a weird, angry version of it in the US, it’s simply dissolving year by year. Clearer-sighted Christians grasp this. Most people do not.
Various things can make a person a Thelemite. The core ideas of the Book of the Law might appear valid or obvious, or there are magical or visionary experiences of various kinds that shift our worldview. For me, when those things fade in memory or I question the whole business, I’m repeatedly struck by how accurately the Book predicts the Aeonic shift from Osirian to Horusian values and concepts: “For I have crushed an Universe, & nought remains” (III, v. 72).
At one point in my UK visit, I was in St. Paul’s Cathedral, which has always impressed me as magnificent and gorgeous. Yet this Christian temple is, more than anything else, a memorial to war and the warriors of Empire. Nelson and Wellington are interred here along with many others who led the forces of Britain in conflict. Surrounded by all this, I found myself considering how so many men, famous and obscure, went out to the distant parts of the world to fight and die for King and country, supported by faith in a God who would welcome them in heaven after they were done killing and conquering, or dying. The notion that Christ had prioritised such things as “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5, v. 8) was wholly sidelined here.
The idea of the godly warrior persists, but it’s rare. People have various reasons for joining the armed forces, but in the public sphere, service rooted in religious faith is a fading, if not faded, ideal.
People have many reasons for leaving Christianity. In my grandparents’ lifetime (1880s to 1970s) very few people did leave the church they were born into; in my own generation, most of us either did so, or had none to leave. In Thelema, we find a spirituality that doesn’t require us to leave our skepticism at the door, but society as a whole is not even consciously looking for such a thing. People don’t know what that greater sense of belonging in the Universe would feel like, though they sense its absence. That absence, that darkness at the core, inspires desperate and ineffective reactions.
My main point in this post is that we’re still in transition, and on manifest levels, the Old Aeon isn’t yet fully collapsed. Current frantic efforts to find a political saviour-figure, or to clamp down on freedom in sexuality are, in large part, related to trying to reinstall the Osirian deity. Concepts such as respect for law, representative democracy, or the body politic in general, were all built on a foundation that’s essentially dissolved: again, “I have crushed an Universe; & nought remains.” (III, v. 72)
The journey of going beyond a wish to fill that External-God-shaped hole is scarcely begun. “It is a thought far from comforting to the present generation,” says Crowley in The Book of Thoth, “that 500 years of Dark Ages are likely to be upon us.” This comment is qualified by his observation, “Fortunately, to-day we have brighter torches and more torch-bearers.”
But not everyone appreciates the light being shared.
Things will likely become much worse than they now seem to be in the near future. The people in Britain voting for Brexit in order to escape the EU, or the populist movements in the US, Italy, France, Hungary and elsewhere, are trying to shake off a perceived oppressor, but they don’t fully grasp what the effects of a complete collapse in the religious foundation of their societies signifies. Once that spiritual core is gone, there’s no firm basis for belief in the efficacy of constitutions, legal precedence, or public decency based on its precepts; and claiming the empty shrine of Christianity as your underlying foundation doesn’t put the god back into the shrine.
The Book of the Law bids us be brave and unconcerned: “Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven or upon the earth or under the earth. ” (III, v. 17) But there are times when we do fear; when we have no idea where to turn. It’s important then to bear in mind that we’re still part of the greater society around us, which is reacting to fear with anger because it no longer has the key to the door it used to possess.
Revisiting England showed me, more starkly than I’d expected, that the world I was born into no longer exists, and can’t be retrieved. There’s only the future, and that looks dicey. Yet into that future each of us must will ourselves. “Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigour, of your arms.” (III, v. 17).
There’s another line from our Book that I often recite to myself: “Ye are against the people, O my chosen.” (II, v. 25). The insecurity might be all around us but it doesn’t have to live within us. But in order not to fear, we first need to identify what it is that we do fear, and what we do feel is missing. That’s the hard step.
Love is the law, love under will,