Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Sometimes, I visit a friend who lives in New York State, and on the way, or perhaps coming home, I stop off near the little town of Manchester. I drive for a few minutes north of the New York Thruway to the prominent drumlin that even non-Mormons call Hill Cumorah. It’s a beautiful spot, offering a broad vista across a chunk of farmland bounded by more hills, with winding paths to the statue at its top, and plentiful birdlife. Visit just as day ends, when other people are leaving, and you might see white-tailed deer coming out of the trees to investigate what the day’s visitors have left in the way of snacks.
Here, according to Mormon belief, is where the Nephite armies under Moroni were defeated by the Lamanite forces around AD 385. Moroni, as the last survivor of a fight involving perhaps half a million men, buried the record of his people here six years later, and it lay there until the 1820s when the farmer’s son Joseph Smith discovered the gold plates upon which it was written. Under divine inspiration, he translated part of them as The Book of Mormon, which he published in 1829. The Book speaks of a visit by Jesus Christ to the Americas following his crucifixion and resurrection, and the establishment and eventual downfall of a kingdom of the blessed.
The notion of America as a magic (no ‘k’) land, a vast sacred space, informed much of early American history. If you read about the early religious groups in the USA, you can learn about the female Messiah Jemima Wilkinson, the Seventh Day Adventists (Republican candidate Ben Carson is one) and a host of other idealistic movements that arose as people became disillusioned or perplexed by their emerging republic in the late 1700s and 1800s. The continent-nation, at least once its irritating native population was sidelined or slaughtered, had already become a tabula rasa for spiritual fantasies, starting perhaps with the Pilgrim Fathers. But none was wilder or more successful than Mormonism, and Smith’s murder in Carthage, Ill., in the summer of 1844, did nothing to stop that. The Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was the person who filled the open spaces of the sacred land with a fantastic legend worthy of its scope.
Such a concept persists down to today in the notion of American exceptionalism. America is different in its DNA, say its proponents. And while they don’t always articulate it, I’ve long felt that they still view the land of their own country as a vast sacred space, however blighted it is by highways, Wal-Marts and other urban sprawl. It’s still possible to find places where there is no sign of direct human presence, and where a sense of vision and hope can be renewed.
I’ve been trying for weeks to write a blog post about Donald Trump. I must be just about the last blogger not to have done so, but relating him to Thelemic themes isn’t easy. But if we see Thelema as – primarily – a worldview based on magick (with the ‘k’) as its foundational notion, then the concept of sacred lands and spaces makes more sense. Trump’s appeal is to ‘anger,’ which is variously defined. But really, his supporters want their magic land back, their sense that there will always be space, and where (to paraphrase Smith’s theology) dark skin is a consequence of being cursed by God for your sins. For Joseph taught that First Nations people who would repent and join his Church would eventually become “fair and delightsome,” a notion that the Church has repudiated, given that it’s demonstrably nonsense.
Some major movements are political, but most, I’d suggest, are archetypally based. Civil Rights in the 1960s came not just from political agitation, but from a complicated mix of resurgent consciousness and pride of identity among non-whites, as well as from a perception of injustice by their white supporters. These were heady matters. The movement overall took on epic qualities and, as the Trump phenomenon or Black Lives Matter show, it has not yet won a definitive victory. One vision of spiritual roots, based on white identity (a term that would take five long posts to define clearly) is still up against another based on black identity, or at least identity based around racial plurality.
There have been many glib analyses, and some good ones, of the socio-political aspects of all this, but fewer efforts have been made to look at things as a collective upwelling of fear, ideation, and pre-rational identity. The archetypal shadow marching forth, like all archetypes and archetypal ideas, is not susceptible to reasoned criticism. Many people would argue that magical perspectives such as I’m suggesting are a side issue, something grafted on the public debate. I argue the diametrical opposite: that magical and archetypal forces are almost always the governing factors in mass movements, and the political rationalisations are the add-ons.
Sure, there’s racist bigotry, homophobia and fear of change involved in the Tea Party and its currently preferred candidate. We can examine all that. Nor is this confined to the USA: skepticism of conventional narratives of how the world came to be and where it should head, long a staple of Middle East politics, is spreading across Europe. Poland and Hungary are already turning their backs on liberal democratic institutions. But at bottom, in the emergence of Trump, we’re looking at a magical movement that selects and holds to its facts and arguments without any real recourse to debate or data-checks.
And what underlies it all is still a belief that America can be, and is, a second Promised Land, as it was for Nephi and his family when they left Palestine in 590 BC and were guided in their boat across the ocean to America. Countering it will require something quite new; and that might well exclude Hillary Clinton. When a huge swath of voters want their magic kingdom restored, like Narnia when the White Witch and her winter were at last banished, lectures on ethics, economics or the realities of international relations have little impact.
And while he might fancy he’s riding the beast he’s helped to unleash, Donald Trump, if elected, could find himself trying to rein in something he cannot easily bridle or halt.
Love is the law, love under will,