Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Colin, pausing between bites of his breakfast in the Buenos Tiempos cafe, remarked on how much it rained last night. But Ana, who lives next door to him, agreed with me and said it hardly rained at all. Colin changed his mind after that, even though we’d all slept through most of the night, and couldn’t be certain.
Any criminal lawyer knows how unreliable witnesses are. Memories may be factually accurate on one level, but our reflections and considerations about them make them as variable as the weather we were discussing. With time, they often transform substantially.
For example, my recollection of a remarkable awakening I had when I was 20 has, over time, moved from my home town in England to the lakeshore of Toronto. I can recall roughly where it actually happened, but I no longer know precisely. For if I bring up the memory, almost always the initial image is of Irwin and Lakeshore, close to High Park. One place I came to know well has virtually replaced the original.
We speak so much of will in magick, and will is forward-directed. It looks to the future, the destination. It helps us focus on what we want to do, and is the fuel for our best efforts. Yet memory is as crucial. William Butler Yeats observed that, “… our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself (and) this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.” In fact, he made his career out of remembering the great memory of Ireland and its stories.
If I look up from my desk I see, about 700 yards away, the cliffsides of the mountains on the far side of the village. Their names – Cerro of the Vultures, Cerro of the Butterflies, Cerro of Quetzalcoatl – commemorate the old ways here, but when I first came I didn’t need to know those names to feel the memories they contain. I wasn’t born here, nor grew up here, but the fantastic sculpting of the rocks, and the trees and shrubs that grow on them prolifically, inevitably impress the mind as being repositories of ancient Mexican lore. The piece of land where my house now sits yielded small pieces of pre-Conquest pottery during the excavations, and archaeologists date back local human occupation more than three millennia. A hundred generations have looked up at these mountains and felt them tell their tales. These days, on some weekends, visiting traditional shamans, backpacking urban magicians and assorted nature mystics almost create traffic-jams on the narrow trails going up into the valleys. That ‘great memory’ confers power, and they seek it out.
Memory is organic. And memory shapes us, just as we shape memory.
The individuation process in magick calls for a concentrated use of memory. To appreciate the scope and essential nature of True Will, the aspirant needs to look back on just what he or she has done: not just actions, but more importantly in terms of the motivation behind the actions, and the emotional affect they produced. We are perpetually (if unconsciously) evoking the True Will through all we do, and we need to pause and observe it dispassionately to comprehend its actual character. We have to focus on memory. It’s no accident that of the three paths leading inwards to Tiphereth, the seat of the encounter with the Holy Guardian Angel, two are connected to memory and thus to elemental water: Nun, which is Scorpio, the fixed water-sign, and Samekh, which is coloured blue for Jupiter, the ruling planet of Sagittarius, to which it is attributed. We cannot enter the inexpressible Sanctuary without knowing – and above all, comprehending – what we have done, and been, and felt.
The sephirah on the Tree of Life specifically associated with memory is Chesed, the sephirah of Jupiter; which, again, is coloured blue. The Adept coming to the culmination of his career here recapitulates the entirety of life experience, because to venture the process called Crossing the Abyss, he has to yield all of himself. It’s a truism in the magical world that many people, after an intensely difficult phase followed by a release or realisation, claim to have made the Crossing. But there will be such ordeals all the way through life, while there are very few true Masters of the Temple. The Abyss, in fact, is going to be imperceptible to anyone who has not reached such a point of summation and recollection of selfhood that the utter, limitless emptiness that is the complementary opposite of the entirety of a human life can become visible or appreciable.
The experience of Tiphereth is a far more feasible goal than the Abyss for most serious magicians, and the intensity of recollection needed is less, if still demanding. But, along with will – volition – memory must be an essential part of the approach work. Further, moving past Tiphereth involves a different kind of recollection as well as deeper absorption of past actions’ significance. The Greater Adept, for example, has the path of Mem, the Hanged Man, to traverse, as well as the path of Lamed, Adjustment, esoterically called the Daughter of the Lords of Truth. Mem is the path known esoterically as the Spirit of the Mighty Waters and in its inconceivable depths lie memories deeper than one human life. Lamed is the path of karmic equilibration, where past acts and words, thoughts and tendencies, are called forth and balanced.
Memory can be a huge distraction in magick, the human mind being able to call forth endless irrelevant recollections as distractions to meditation or invocation. And it often carries intense emotional charges such as residual grief or shame, anger or pain. As noted at the start of this piece, such emotions can themselves be distorting in their effects, forming secondary, almost autonomous, memories of their own. The magician’s aspiration, which has to include a willingness to experience all things that bear on his or her life, is bound to be shocked into pausing at some point of recollection and revisiting of these.
But this is the process, the ordeal. In itself it will contain its eventual resolution; diligently worked, Samekh, the path of Adjustment, known esoterically as the Daughter of the Reconcilers and also as the Bringer Forth of Life, can perform its magick eventually. But when the memories evoked cover a human lifetime, we need to understand that such resolution itself requires time. Memories may transform with the years, at least as we relate to them, but many persist for a lifetime, and they may still have things to say to us long after we think we have accepted and calmed whatever emotions they stirred in the past.
Love is the law, love under will.