Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The topic of guilt is a touchy one in Thelema. The word itself appears nowhere in the Book of the Law, and most of us read the Book as offering very specific instructions to move past it. We take the text as advocating anything that seems to promote joy and fullness of life.
Yet many people live with deep levels of guilt. We feel guilt towards our parents, our families, society as a generality and for some of us, towards the God we insist we’ve renounced. Guilt is something that won’t go away until its roots are addressed, and we have done something to expunge it: either by making reparations for actual hurt we have caused, or discovering its tangled roots and doing our best to dissolve their falsehood. Or in some cases, both. Often it calls for psychological counselling, so we can gain more objectivity over the processes that generate and maintain it.
In the last post I was quoting Jung, and right now I’m deep into a re-reading of Sonu Shamdasani’s long and fascinating Introduction to The Red Book, which contains much of the source material for Jung’s thought and life’s work. I came across this passage on page 208, where Shamdasani is describing two talks on the topic of Adaptation Jung gave in 1916, shortly after writing the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos:
“Adaptation to the ‘inner’ led to the demand for individuation, which was contrary to adaptation to others. Answering this demand and the corresponding break with conformity led to a tragic guilt that required expiation and called for a new ‘collective function,’ because the individual had to produce values that could serve as a substitute for his absence from society. These new values enabled one to make reparation to the collective. Individuation was for the few. Those who were insufficiently creative should rather re-establish collective conformity with a society. The individual had not only to create new values, but also socially recognizable ones, as society had a ‘right to expect realizable values’.”
Jung had previously dallied with the emerging Dadaist movement, the precursor of surrealism, and broke with the artists in that because they were scorning society as a whole. Dr. Jung, the respectable family man and physician of Zurich, would have none of this, even though he was concerned that what he had to offer from his emerging psycho-spiritual paradigm might not be acceptable to the world around him. His being a psychiatrist, a healer, was his way of dealing with his own guilt, and it was something he elevated to a profound level through the next four decades.
This all seems at odds with classic Thelemic thinking, but getting beyond thinking to classic Thelemic living isn’t an easy road. Creating an inner split between feelings of doubt and confusion and the transcendent goal being sought doesn’t do much other than create a quasi-heroic inner battle, the energy for which could have been used constructively in other directions.
At some point, all of us have to let the rest of the world in on the fact that we’ve become different people through Thelema. The rest of the world has probably noticed this, and may be concerned or actively hostile. Simply declaring allegiance to Thelema might resolve the problem by ending any possible connection with certain family members, but not everyone wants to do this. The main points of Thelemic doctrine can be expressed in straightforward words, without reference to Crowley, magick or revealed texts from praeternatural intelligences. They’re actually mainstream today in many ways, even if living them as opposed to thinking them is not.
But I won’t deny Jung’s point. If we strip away the Swiss bourgeois concerns, we see a wise man who only uttered his opinions in public after serious consideration.
There are two things to be pointed out here. One is that the first chapter of the Book of the Law is about our connection to the universal. The third verse, “Every man and every woman is a star,” proclaims the intrinsic worth of each human being: whether that worth is realised in the course of life is another issue, but it exists. I would argue that this chapter’s primary theme might be identifying the Transcendent to the seeker, but it is also very strongly about relationships with other humans:
Help me, o warrior lord of Thebes, in my unveiling before the Children of men!
Let my servants be few & secret: they shall rule the many & the known.
Come forth, o children, under the stars, and take your fill of love!
I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.
Which, with my initial quote, makes five verses out of the first 13. The importance of connection and community in a revitalised form is stressed throughout the chapter. The following one is strongly about not falling into the games and needs of others, but it still stresses the shared journey and shared challenge.
It was once observed to me by a senior Adept that he had yet to encounter a person who had discovered their True Will and found that it did not, in some way, serve humanity. It might involve teaching, or entertainment, or healing, or leadership, but he knew of no examples that were solely about private transcendence and individual fulfilment. He didn’t cite any examples or statistics to support his claim, but my limited knowledge of others’ True Wills backs him up.
Guilt in the sense of shame or awkwardness needs to be dissolved, because it is pathological. We might require various tools – therapy, meditation, magick – to get beyond it. But guilt also works, in a less blush-producing and tongue-tying fashion, to indicate areas of True Will that we need to explore, not repress. Conscience, remember, is a key means the HGA uses to communicate with us.
So I don’t think the wise old Doctor from Zurich was off the mark. Learning the real nature and function of the True Will goes a long way to correcting embarrassment or guilty feelings, and guilt and its accompanying fear should never become an excuse not to explore our essential selves. But like other persistent feelings, guilt has a message to communicate and a function in the inner ecology of the human soul.
Love is the law, love under will.