Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
For five years, until this August, I lived in central Mexico, gradually entering into an odd state of disorientation. I wondered if it was early-onset dementia, but it receded steadily once I returned to Canada.
Then, back here, despite having previously lived in Toronto for 39 years, I found myself facing reverse culture shock and an inverse disorientation. That, too, is also receding, but not fast enough for my liking.
All this made me wonder: What good is all this occultism? After two decades of practice, shouldn’t I be serenely cheerful in the face of all adversities? Oughtn’t I to be able to enter into these experiences with curiosity and enthusiasm, dispensing sage and witty observations about them to all around me? Instead, it’s taken nearly three months to get my feet back on the ground.
Anyone starting out on the occult path assumes the goodies will show up after a while, like levitation and other super-powers. They might, we imagine, take some time, but surely clairsentience, telepathic insights and beatific visions should be at our theurgical fingertips after a few years, yes? And our path through life will become increasingly filled with synchronistic encounters, insights to confer on others, and of course the frequent and willing services of angels, archfiends and whatever it was lived under the bed when we were six years old. They will find for us beautiful, admiring (and admirable) lovers, first editions of Crowley’s books and, naturally, a modest fortune to deflect the cruder demands of mundane existence.
Mexico, as beautiful as it is, is beset by a profound sense of defeat. The Conquistadors annihilated the indigenous religion, along with its records and literature. Despite the evidence that had been all around me, I needed a couple of months of living back here to register just how spiritually crippling that mass destruction had been – and how much of that defeatedness had seeped into me.
Mexicans, in the five centuries since Cortes imposed European rule and Catholicism on their lands, have had to deal with a deep, internalised sense of hopeless subordination. This is made all the more insidious by the apparent sweetness of the national icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe, who combines a bogus story with an equally bogus artefact (the cape of the probably non-existent St. Juan Diego, canonised not long ago by John Paul II) to compel infantilised grovelling on the general populace. The fact that her image is found in nine-tenths of Mexican homes makes her eradication in our lifetimes next to impossible. She is the Mother of last resort for most people in the country, even as she is used by the Church to perpetuate the very conditions of existential hopelessness that lead people to pray to her.
But shouldn’t I have seen past all that? After all, I knew about absorbing vibes, atmospheres and so on from my surroundings. This was so omnipresent, I didn’t see the exploitative wood for the pious trees: or counteract it, however much I banished. I needed to leave to see how she corrodes the national spirit. Half my expat friends in Mexico were becoming alcoholics, an affliction of the defeated in spirit, even if they’d had productive lives before retiring there. I make a bad alcoholic, since I don’t like throwing up or having hangovers, but I still slipped into confusion when I couldn’t find Thelemically minded people around me.
Independence of thought and spirit were crushed in Mexico centuries ago, and are only slowly coming back. The drug cartels are, in part, a consequence; they’re a dark mirror of the Virgin’s manipulative, domineering cult.
Yet all occultism seemed to offer me was an over-sensitivity to all this, rather than mental and spiritual detachment. That has value in itself, since to exorcise the old Aeon we have to encounter and defy its worst manifestations. I just didn’t find the way to exorcise this particular vampire from my own orbit. And I didn’t know it was that till I’d gone.
So, seriously – what is occultism good for? We have these uplifting encounters with different levels of being. We find ourselves in the presence of different kinds of consciousness or Light. We learn to invoke and to banish, and to regulate our breath and some of our thought processes. We gain a certain measure of detachment, and in some cases, we obtain relief from chronic symptoms of ill health or emotional pain. But at the end of the day, the same old personality, obsessed, anxious and doubting, still has a presence. Some practitioners claim they’re truly guided by a supernal intelligence, yet often they seem to have off-days amid their intelligent supernality.
My inner cynic, who speaks here, demands the right to be heard within my mental ecology; he’s part of the particular persistent personality pattern I grew into through my earlier life. Yet because he’s not very reflective, he needs to be shushed when he won’t shut up. A less vocal, less forceful ‘voice’ lies behind him, and fostering that is one of the things I feel occultism has been good for.
What else? If I tallied my gains from my time in magick and Hermeticism, I’d have to concede that at some point, I lost fear of actual death. Not of dying or of being old and decrepit, but the thought that at some point, stuff will go on but I won’t. I can accept the time-limit on my participation in this world, without having certainty about anything after it. My selfhood is, in the end, another mask, not a centrality. My existence is sustained by “that which remains,” to quote The Book of the Law (II, v. 9)
Magick itself can be problematic after a certain age, when zeal is in shorter supply, even if the yearning that’s always fed it continues. I gratefully enter the wowzers invocations when they still happen, but they seem to come at greater intervals now I’m a Probationer in the Order of Creaky Joints.
What truly abides isn’t the ability to consistently astound myself, intoning Names in a dark room with a candle or two, but the ongoing sense of being in a field of purpose, a continuum of unseen Light that doesn’t need either my affirmation or participation, even if it encourages both. And this continuum lies behind or beneath any psycho-pyrotechnics, or lack thereof.
This is not to deny that cool stuff happens at times. After what seemed a long time with few moments of meaning as I went through reversing my move to Mexico, and the shock of re-entering a seemingly meaner and more disconnected society in Toronto than the one I remembered, I’ve found synchronicity coming back. I hang up from making an awkward phone call, and promptly receive a fulsome email from someone I’d given up on. My time seems to pre-organise itself in synch with unanticipated tasks. I have renewed enthusiasm generally since I returned to an English-speaking society. The adventure in the Sun served its various purposes, and it’s done.
There’s a certain mental streamlining that happens to us as we age. Provided we keep enough of our marbles that we can keep track of the shifts, we find a simplification happening, as the True Will goes through its later permutations. Magick helps in this, but isn’t, I suspect, essential.
What this streamlining does is crystallise all our reflections and calculations. And also, it reinforces our human connections as magicians. That emphasises the Nuit-aspect of it all: the interconnected ether, or sub-space interweaving, that happens outside our conscious sight.
Occultism has not made me a magus (either with a lower or upper case M) but it steadily reminds me of how everyday existence is not as real as I’ve always worried it was. Sometimes, I think the befuddled nature of the elderly comes from their not being able to process the increasing realisation that the world is a con-job. My esoteric efforts will, I hope, save me from fretting overmuch about that ‘reality.’
All that said, I wouldn’t mind if some of the cool stuff does still happen. Levitation seems dicey, since there are reports (remember Crowley’s story about Allan Bennett in trance) of levitators toppling in mid-lev. But making objects float round the room, or teleporting a pizza for the gang, maybe … now that would be fun.
At the very least, I’d like to invoke successfully and interview that thing from under my childhood bed to ask what he thought he was up to down in the dark. My guess is, he was just following orders from some unknown part of myself: but it would be nice to hear that from the horse’s (or ghoul’s) own mouth.
After all, making just a few such entities cringe would be a rewarding payback for all those hours spent invoking, intoning and visualising. And also for those many mind-muddling (and also Sun-blest) hours I spent in the green mountains of Mexico. Occultism offers us grades and degrees, offices and attainments. But in the end, all that gaudy foofaraw aside, occultism is good for making us look at what we are and what we’re doing, while we pass through a human lifetime.
Love is the law, love under will,