Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Our notion of a matriarchal age succeeded by a patriarchal one emerged out of 19th Century anthropology. Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, the first edition of which came out in 1890, had a significant influence on its times, and the idea is examined in his book. Frazer ran into strong headwinds of criticism, not least for treating the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection as a mythic tale deriving from pagan predecessors. The notion is implicit in The Book of the Law, which posits a third era, that of the Child, following the first two.
Scholastically, despite the work of scholars such as Marija Gimbutas, who treat the notion of the age of the Mother Goddess as demonstrable fact, the notion is still academically contentious. But if we strip away the idea of interpreting every ancient image of a woman as being evidence of a female-dominated society, and drop the dubious idea that such societies were unfamiliar with inter-tribal warfare, we still have a viable format for looking at the stages of human social evolution.
Taking the esoteric notion of “As above, so below; as within, so without” as a basic postulate on human consciousness, nature and destiny, we can see our distant forebears, during what Thelemites call the Aeon of Isis, as being aware of intangible forces in the Universe. Sometimes they identified these with storms, floods and earthquakes; in subtler ways at which we can only guess today, they also experienced an inner or spiritual world. They carved their images, they established their sacred sites, and later their temples, and they ceremonially buried their dead, often with grave goods, indicating they thought some incorporeal part of a human being lived on after physical death.
In other words, there was seemingly awareness of what today we could call the Macrocosm, yet little of this appeared to these people to be from or of themselves. They projected, to use the modern psychological term, with little or no comprehension of what they were doing. Perhaps certain priests or shamans eventually began to grasp the potential lying with human consciousness unconsciousness, but we don’t see a great deal of evidence for this. Mostly, even the wisest people of those times seem to have had limited powers of self-perception and self-awareness. They believed they could link up with the Universal powers through ritual, but as far as we can discern from what we’ve found, there was little in the way of what today we’d call theology or philosophy. There was the occasional push towards monotheism, so that in a place like Ancient Egypt, we find the idea of Ma’at or just world-order, and even an overarching deity such as Amun-Ra. But, other than the brief eruption of worship of the Aten, which was soon quashed, and which might rather have been worship of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s family, there is no monotheistic God evident.
In other words, the spiritual essence of humankind was projected onto the outer world in multiple ways, with multiple aspects. There was a coherence of attitude, perhaps, a consensus of mentality, but scarcely a clear notion of One God.
The Aeon of Osiris, the time of the Father, is given various start-dates depending who you read, but all agree on some point after 800 BCE. After this point, we see the emergence of basic dualism in ancient Persia (Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman), and the beginnings of monotheistic thought among Greek philosophers and the Hebrews of Palestine. Hinduism explicitly began to endorse the idea that its gods were simply aspects of one Super-Deity. Coincident with this, we note much more biographical information circulating about non-royal persons. In other words, from a generally homogeneous condition, humanity had found a concept of genuine individuation and the worth of the separate person, and along with this its idea of Divinity was much sharper. As the notion of the individual self-concept took hold, so was it easier to conceive of one consciousness creating and running the Universe. God had been created in the image of man.
Along with this came the suggestion, in Hinduism, Buddhism and other Indian faiths, that the individual could erase the perceived divisions between himself and Divinity, and thus attain to liberation from separative existence. Rather than simply immersing himself in awareness of the Divine or aspects thereof, as might have happened during the Aeon of Isis, the mystical seeker could rise up in superconscious comprehension to absorption in the Ultimate.
With the ebbing of polytheism in and around Europe two millennia ago, by which time the Aeon of Osiris was becoming well established, the notion of a saviour deity took over, so that God become more anthropomorphic. Jesus Christ was a fusion of the human and the Divine, and could thus be assimilated into a seeker’s consciousness – and, it was held by Christian mystics, vice-versa. The female side of God persisted as the Virgin Mary, but usually in a subordinate role, and probably as the facilitator of mystical union with the actual (i.e. male) God.
One seemingly inevitable factor that arose around this time was that the instincts and the physical appetites ran afoul of the emerging paradigm. The Aeon of Isis accepted physicality without serious question. But as a realised and reasoning soul became the goal of the seeker, suppressing the body and its needs came to seem necessary for asserting this soul’s existence and primacy. Humanity was moving into an appreciation of things not immediately essential for physical survival, while looking for post-physical existence.
In Qabalistic jargon, the Aeon of Isis had operated from the body and from the vital or instinctual soul, the Nephesh. The self-conscious or reasoning soul, the Ruach, came into play as a dimly acknowledged Higher Force, acting as humanity developed myths to explain its existence, as the teacher of methods of construction for stone circles, temples, pyramids and eventually cities and writing.
In the Aeon of Osiris, the age of the Father, this reasoning and self-conscious Ruach came to the fore, becoming the centre of the gravity of the human psyche. This in turn was accompanied by varying degrees of appreciation of the existence of the supernal soul, the Neshamah, often experienced in a form like the Freudian super-ego. Its pressures and apparent demands were interpreted variously as commandments, prohibitions and mundane laws, while some of the anxieties it triggered, valid or not, were seen as prophecies. The Ruach, recognising its ultimate inability to rule the human system, ceded primacy to this difficult and overwhelming presence in life: “Not I, but Thee O Lord.” Even in Buddhist societies, ostensibly admitting of no God, the quest to assert the stability of the state and of social convention posed similar requirements, and had the same effect.
This God-likeness was projected outside of ourselves as a definite Oneness, and not (as in the prior Aeon of Isis) as a multiplicity of forces that in some hard-to-fathom and even warlike way managed the Universe.
While we put the ‘official’ start of the Aeon of Horus, the Child, in April 1904, there were signs of a rupture coming before this. Freud, Bleuler and other early psychiatrists had begun their psychological and psycho-sexual investigations; Frazer and others had started their anthropological and religious ones; and the old faith was increasingly on the rocks in western culture. There was an embryonic move to reincorporate sex into social consciousness, and, from these thinkers as well as from the rational agnostics, the followers of Darwin, and movements such as Theosophy or the Hermetic revival in France, Germany and England, there arose a growing appreciation that the powers of the Ruach could be applied to all areas of human activity.
This led us into an odd paradox, and one with which we’re still dealing. We began to appreciate the depth and immensity of human consciousness, and to see in some ways how our great myths and mystical perceptions had roots in the exalted realm of Neshamah. We also realised how an energised, inspired Ruach could produce entirely news ways of understanding the cosmos, as shown in the work of the 20th Century physicists and astronomers, and we overthrew, if not the old God Himself, certainly many of our conceptions of him. This meant a turning back to Ruach-consciousness rather than moving ahead, since the Ruach was known territory.
Thus we found ourselves, at the end of a century of existentialism, fascism, rationalism, surrealism, neoconservatism, post-modernism and what-have-you without any of our old points of reference. Some people embraced this in formless hedonism, or milk-and-water spirituality that rejected the depth and breadth of human nature and experience. Others, horrified, turned back to the old landmarks, and desperately tried to reinvigorate the old God. He would prove His presence and reality, cried these reinvigorated followers, by destroying us at the century’s end, or at various prior and subsequent dates, the ecological, social and population crises being ‘signs’ of His wrath; since while He created and ruled the entire Universe, He couldn’t use a telephone or publish a blog, and needed to communicate via incoherent temper tantrums.
But while there were – and are – serious strains in our relationships with all the vital systems of our home planet, Armageddon was always put off one more time after each deadline passed without His awful return. The problem won’t go away that easily: the responsibility remains with us.
That’s the terrifying (to us, at this time) reality – the torch has been passed to us humans. We can placate our projected God again, upping the odds in extreme cases by sacrificing ‘infidels’ to His name: after all, requiring extreme behaviour is one way of convincing ourselves over and above our own doubts, as both the Nazis and violent drug gangs have understood. We could deny the emerging reality, just as the Romans (in relatively early days of the Aeon of Osiris) had tortured and burned the disciples of the emerging symbol of Divinity that the Christians projected onto an obscure Jewish prophet. And we could turn away from the seeming outer chaos by distracting ourselves in a zillion ways.
But for conscious, questioning people, reality is inescapable. The new task, in this Aeon, is to align the entire human system: to bring in the instincts, appetites and emotions, but within the oversight of the Ruach; and to expand the Ruach’s self-referential perception of a human being as a rational mind grappling with human complexity, by bringing in an awareness of the Neshamah and the ultimately controlling archetypes rooted in its realm.
The Book of the Law that announced the new Aeon stresses the primacy of Will, but in a context that clearly extends beyond the appetites and desires, however relevant they might be to human happiness and equilibrium. For this Will is the Qabalistic Chiah, the Life-Force that, differently for each individual, is the Logos of life.
We have to look Up, but also within, and not – except as a necessary stage or set of stages in developing our understanding – to the outside. All the projections – of a parent-God or a tyrant-God, of punishment and power, of truth and authority lying elsewhere – have to be reabsorbed into a realigned Selfhood that incorporates the dynamism and primal authority of this Will. Our difficulty is that this is still new to us, and therefore it seems inordinately risky or difficult.
In Thelema we’re also using what was derided not long ago as an archaic and discredited method, namely magick. This takes most people a period of years to learn; but given the extent of the job at hand, this is quite fast. We also employ yoga and other useful means to open up the Within to access the richness of the Neshamah and the Chiah-Will it contains: there’s nobody telling us what is and is not permitted any more. The sole criterion – and it’s a very strict yet simultaneously liberating one – is to be completely true to our own dynamic and questing nature. We have to keep on keeping on, until we understand That which lies at the core of all our activity.
We’ve not been here before, and to be afraid is a basic initial reaction. But Ruach can deploy intellectual tools to analyse the fear, and Neshamah give us, though an increasingly evolved and intimate exchange, indications on how to proceed.
Just don’t forget to stop for lunch: or for loving. The body still needs care and feeding, just like it did before we first dreamed of heaping boulders into circles and mounds, and of carving symbols onto them. Back then, the stars were unknowable points of light in the night sky. Today, we have the first inklings that we too, are each one star in an infinite field of such points of light.
Love is the law, love under will,