February 12, 2014 TOLS

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,

Edward Mason

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Comments (2)

  1. Gerardo Braham

    Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

    Just finished reading your blog entry “Thelema outside the box”. I thougth about posting something on it. My opinion is one of a Mexican born and grown in the country who as a personal basis follows Thelema and is working hard on finding my True Will.

    The question is, does being raised on a Protestant family/community helps you to question and find your own true path more than being raised in a Catholic environment?

    I find that argument a bit weak. Although Protestantism could be related with questioning and finding your own true path, that has not stopped communities of people following fringe beliefs like not using electricity or never going to a hospital since “Jesus saved us and therefore prayer is enough to heal you” from forming all around the United States and I bet in certain isolated parts of Europe also happens. Also, there is a strong community of people who follow the protestant teachings in Latin America (in the 80’s it was around 16%, currently around 25%), just in Brazil there are more than 30 millions of Evangelics. So in my opinion Protestantism may be a factor, but not a deciding one.

    I would better blame the imperialism and colonialism as the principal factors for this lack of Will. North Americans exterminated as much of the Native American population as they could and isolated in reservations those who they could not kill. Therefore there was no one to slave but the Africans who were shipped for working in the plantations and which created another problem for later.

    In Latin America, the Spaniards took a different approach, since Catholicism forbade slavery, they had to use the Natives as labor force in a mock up of freedom. When Independent movements came, the change was only in name and the ruling class still was the rich descendants of the conquerors, so the cycle continued with a few of them getting access to education and the rest remaining analphabetic and ignorant. In Mexico we had a Revolution at the start of the 20th Century (just a few years after Crowley came) which killed as many people in proportion as the World War I in Europe. But at the end, there were new bosses in town and not much change at all. Of course, the rulers were Masons since that was the fad of the time.

    So, if the faith is not the issue, what else could be the cause?

    I propose as a counter argument for the reason why people are so slow to follow their Will in Latin America is because we have been conditioned first by faith and later by school to follow orders and not to question the authority in charge. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution finally coming to Mexico after the Revolution, the ruling class needed the labor force to be able to read and do simple operations (and of course to learn to follow orders), so education finally was instituted as a right for the people but in truth it was just to generate obedient workers around 1917. Before that, education was controlled by priests and nuns so we just changed from one seat to the next one on the carousel we are put in.

    So in my opinion, education is the real answer to the question, if you try to explain True Will to a person who barely reads and has never thought those questions, they will just look at you funny. Faith may be one of the factors, but not a deciding one.

    Love is the law, love under will
    Gerardo

  2. TOLS

    Gerardo, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
    Many thanks for your long and thoughtful comment.
    My main point is not about Protestantism as a specific faith, but as a philosophy of individual spirituality. The break with absolute authority was made very firmly in northern Europe 500 years ago, and as you note, it was around this time that what is today known as Latin America had a new, and foreign, authority stamped upon it. I don’t see Protestantism as ‘a faith’ in this context, but rather as an attitude. In time, it fragmented into national and regional churches, and later on into many denominations and sects. The Fama Fraternitatis (among other aims that its authors intended) was one effort to recapture the fading spirit of early Protestantism.
    Education itself, I feel, is about breaking free from a collective mentality and the dead hand of the past. Catholics were not supposed to read the Bible on their own, at least until very recently, while people affected by the early Protestant spirit were encouraged to learn to read so they could study it in their own homes. The individual in northern Europe, after the Protestant Reformation, achieved more autonomy and dignity, so that in some cases – the English Revolution of the late 1600s, for example – the monarchy was overthrown, at least temporarily. Mexico had to wait another 150 years to do this, and even then, as you note, the new rulers were not very democratically minded men.
    I appreciate that independent thinking does not necessarily lead to intelligent action. The current condition of the United States is proof of this. But such independent-mindedness does breed new ideas, as well as create an environment where they can flourish, for good or for ill. Hopefully, Mexico and other countries that were part of the Spanish Empire will continue their current process of developing a wider consciousness, and Thelemites will grow in numbers and make a significant contribution to that.
    Love is the law, love under will,
    Edward Mason

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