Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The area where I live in Mexico has a large contingent of New Age seekers, yoga practitioners and people who profess a decidedly non-Catholic belief system. Yet mixed up in all this is a persistent seeking to rediscover external authority. The main contingent of Tibetan Buddhists, for example, is currently led by a man who professes himself a shaman, and has limited credentials in the Dharma. The members chose him, apparently finding the need to be lamps unto themselves, as Gautama Buddha enjoined, to be not just difficult, but threatening. It’s one thing when there’s a living guru to depend on, but when he has departed and there are only the teachings to fall back on, then the Catholicism reasserts itself.
To date, while there is a smattering of Thelemites in Mexico, they are a small, scattered community, and still (in my limited experience) prone to become worked up over pseudo-religious scams like the 2012 Maya Apocalypse. Every time some flakey website predicts the latest comet or asteroid discovery is going to hit us and wipe out life on Earth, there seem to be plenty of people who latch onto this. It’s something definite, it looks like it will be a total experience: it doesn’t entail the ambivalence of a solitary quest after an individual God-self.
Visitors to Mexico City can still have the former headquarters of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition pointed out to them. It’s now the Museum of Mexican Medicine. After preventing forcibly converted Jews from backsliding into Judaism, one of the Inquisition’s key functions was to prevent Protestantism breaking out. Spain somehow managed to keep the Renaissance at bay, unlike Italy, Germany and France, and it did a pretty effective job with the Reformation, too. It went from the Medieval mindset to the Counter-Reformation without much of a deviation. And as a colony, Mexico followed suit.
Aleister Crowley liked to note that The Book of the Law was given exactly four centuries after the putative date of appearance of the Fama Fraternitatis, the first Rosicrucian Manifesto. Its successor, the Confessio Fraternitatis, is very heavily anti-Catholic, in a way modern readers can find perplexing or embarrassing. “We hereby do condemn the East and the West (meaning the Pope and Mahomet),” says Chapter I of the Confessio, “for their blasphemies against our Lord Jesus Christ.” And further on, in Chapter XIII, the authors claim to “sincerely confess Christ, execrate the Pope,” and so on.
It’s important to bear in mind that Protestantism, under Luther, Melanchthon and others, was not intended to be schismatic, but reformatory. Those who were ‘protesting’ wanted to fix the error of ideas such as a human priest or institution being necessary as an intermediary between human beings and the Divine. Only later, when it could not influence the Roman Church to change, did the movement devolve into separate denominations. It lost power by rejecting most of the powerful symbolism of ritual, ceding that area of religion to the Catholics, whose priestly training system turned out sufficient ‘Adepts’ (of a sort) that its magical aura and authority continue to this day.
The value of Protestantism to Thelemites is that it established the idea of a direct, intimate relation with the Divine, without the need of an external priest. To begin, yes, priests of a sort were necessary, but the idea was always that the believer should find his or her own salvation through Grace, and not seek to attain it via officially dispensed sacraments. Magick simply restores the power of ceremonial to the individual practitioner.
By watching the (non)emergence of a significant Thelemic movement here in Mexico, it has been borne in on me that only cultures exposed to a strong Protestant movement easily grasp the core ideas of True Will or seeking Knowledge and Conversation. Ironically, it might be the increasing, aggressive presence of Mormon missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostalists and other fringe Protestants, that helps an eventual swing against this.
Thelema has more than a toehold in North America, and a steadily growing presence in parts of Europe. As a result, it is shaping itself in accord with certain memes of the societies in those parts of the world. It is far easier to be a professing Thelemite in a culture that has already overthrown, or tried to overthrow, the primary religious authority, and has a tradition of psychological self-perception and self-analysis; people understand what you mean more easily.
And, I would suggest, Thelemites can understand what they themselves mean more easily in such surroundings. When you are attempting to root out old attitudes and reshape your view of the world, having a historical template around you, and the support of others who might feel generally similarly to you, is an asset. What shape the 93 current will take as it gradually move out into nations without a Protestant tradition, is a lot harder to predict.
Love is the law, love under will,