Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Exactly twenty-three summers ago, I waited outside a historic fraternity Lodge in northwest Toronto for two hours or more. Eventually, I was called inside, and was initiated into the Temple of Thelema.
My reasons for being there go back a quarter-century or more prior to that, and I won’t detail them here. Suffice it to say, the T.O.T. was a logical outcome for me, though that logic wasn’t evident to me for a while after I joined. I worked through its degree system, rising eventually to be a Temple Chief, an installed Hierophant and, near the end, one of the three Grand Chiefs of the whole order. Obviously, I also left it, but only after sixteen years of study, ritual, meditation and hope. It wasn’t a waste of time at all. My reasons for leaving related to a sense of things having dried out: of the order not having much direction (it had stopped growing) and myself having absorbed all I was going to in this lifetime from Jim Eshelman, my initiating teacher.
My conscious plan at the time was to work on alone, absorbing all I’d been through and thought, pondering the validity of it all, and looking for the nub, the kernel, the skeleton, of the initiatory process. In fact, and perhaps unwisely, within weeks I was conspiring with other disaffected or former members to start a new, local order, and in March 2012, we inaugurated the Temple of Our Lady of the Stars.
I started composing this post in my head this morning, with the idea of listing the many personal failures that ensued. But by the time I came to put words into coherent sentences, the emphasis had shifted, to “unspectacular level of success.” And by the time this is done, I’ll hopefully have hit a far more truthfully objective stance.
First of all, in any occult adventuring, the idea we have at the beginning is about triumph. We’re going to scale the mountains, attain the heights, plumb the depths, and bring at least a couple of minor new commandments down from whatever Sinai we can ascend. I knew, in taking on the Wardenship of the Temple, that I’d known other people with far more impressive levels of realisation than myself, and more confidence in expressing that achieved Gnosis to others. I was familiar with the whole training process using the conventional Hermetic Tree of Life, though, and hoped I could get by as a kind of caretaker guru.
That’s worked, more or less. People have listened to my public talks because I could explain more about this stuff than anyone else in the southern Ontario area. Some students have been with the Temple for five years or more, and both they and newer members have progressed in life-knowledge, and in emotional and spiritual deepening. Paul Foster Case and Aleister Crowley were told by their inner-plane guides, in different ways, that they were merely the best people available for the work, and the same applies to me. I barely meet the requirements, even on this scale … but I do meet them.
Recruiting is always a frustration. We did deliberately plan to be a locally based order, without far-flung membership. If you can’t reasonably get to a meeting in Toronto twice a month, we politely rebuff your application. But in a city of 2.6-million people, with millions more in adjoining communities, it seemed we needed under one-thousandth of one percent of the population to join us, to have a substantial Temple.
We grow, but we’ve not hit that point yet. What we offer is unfashionable, challenging, demanding of time and energy, and (I assume) intimidating to many; people sometimes indicate they’re not sure about us, when in fact they’re not sure about themselves. Lack of confidence is possibly the biggest barrier to applying for an interview for membership. “I’m not really good at magick and stuff,” is a response I was given one time.
Well, no, you aren’t. Which is why we’re a school: Hogwarts R Us, so to speak.
Then there’s the issue of women members. We are not, thankfully, an all-boys club, but the proportions of the gender mix are frustrating. Why, we never quite know. The problem does apply to other Thelemic orders, not just us. Is it the shadow of Aleister Crowley hovering over Thelema? Is there something supposedly repressive to women in the curriculum and structure? A lack of focus on gender politics? People not grasping we’re a mystery school, a training ground, not a recruiting centre for a sex-cult? Something I said … ? I’ve asked women I know in the esoteric field, but no consistent answers came back.
And there is, also, the fact that the training is honest. We check what people have been up to, and we don’t pass you to the next degree if you’re not ready. Some people get nervous about that. The system would be easy to dilute, but then we’d lose the heart of the thing. We’re trying to trigger spiritual insights, and they only come when you apply a little pressure to yourself.
It’s easy to let the negative aspects of each of these things get to me if I’m tired, or distracted during a meditation, or the magical juice just isn’t there tonight. The pure detachment, the undiluted enthusiasm of “the true spiritual leader,” can go missing in action. Some of those talks I give downtown don’t exactly catch fire. And so on.
There’s only one good response to all my own concerns here. Magick and magical aspiration are based on Will, as we all know. It sustains us through highs and lows, and over, in my case, twenty-three years spent un-learning of anachronistic beliefs and attitudes.
But the Book of the Law also says succinctly, “Love is the law, love under will.” Either you love the whole business, with its sense that “something” that isn’t your everyday self is engaged in this adventure, or you’ll give up. Some people don’t reach that, or can’t sustain the connection. In all of this Qabalah, alchemy, symbolism, Crowleyan prophetical polysyllabic pontification and so on, we find that love is not absent, but rather it awaits us. How?
Because it underlies all things.
In a strange, hurried and harried time, with few norms and institutions going unchallenged, the fact that love lives, and can still be discovered and known, is a rare treasure. The people who study with me (we’re all students, forever), or people who often come out to talks, or who share their own struggles and insights in their related groups … they understand that “being spiritual” starts as one-up-personship, and a possibly neurotic quest for hidden knowledge and/or mastery over themselves. At the end of the day, all of that falls rather by the wayside, and we keep on keeping on for the sake of the thing itself.
Love is the law, love under will … indeed.