Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Apart from stories about Crowley’s own life, and those of a very few other Thelemites, Thelema lacks myths. With the single, brief exception of the tale of the horned cerastes in Liber LXV, Cap V, the Holy Books lack stories as such.
This is no accident. The clear target for any aspirant to these mysteries is the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and that, while it entails recapitulating the entire life-story of the aspirant, is different for each person who walks that way. It could perhaps be generalised as a myth in vague terms, such as the Hero’s Journey, but the methodology – yoga, magical ceremonial and spiritual devotion – is not very close to the great myth-cycles beloved of Joseph Campbell, or expounded by Carl Jung.
Where an esoteric practice is based around a narrative of myth – Jesus died for my sins, the gods created the heaven and the earth and underwent various experiences that formulated the world we know, our people journeyed in the wilderness until they came to their divinely intended home, we are living in the End Times and we expect to survive Judgement – it usually manifests in what Mircea Eliade termed sacred time. That esoteric component, as occurs with Mormonism or many small secretive sects, that sense of participation in a different history to the rest of humanity, or a differently structured one, is greatly intensified and confers a sense of being elect.
The frequent accusation that members of so-called cults (i.e., religions you don’t believe in, and/or don’t like) are brainwashed stems from this. A person who has found a particular mythic concept powerful, and commits to the associated doctrines, moves into a parallel continuum.
Thelemites are meant to form such an elite, and the mystery schools have their secrets and private practices. The mystique of that sustains many newer members as they come to terms with the system and its ordeals.
But knowing and doing one’s True Will calls for having a life, and a wide world in which to perform it, and cutting off old friends or family is counter-productive to that. Most Thelemic fraternities aim to keep their members connected to the general world, not isolated. My own Temple, for example, tactfully deflects people who think we can save them from poor social adaptation and lack of motivation. Crowley set the standard, keeping up friendships with non-magicians throughout his life, living his life within the mundane world as well as beyond it, and we follow that.
Yet there are people who try to create sub-cultures out of Thelema, possibly in order to savour more of that sense of the special, or of living in the timeflow of the Aeon of Horus, or of being able to assert higher rank within the Elect. There are often efforts to create a Thelemic political party, for example (on what basis? We all agree to differ?) and some shorter-lived fraternities have centred on the personality of one Adept more than on The Book of the Law and teachings derived from it. That can seem like a short-cut, and it is. Thelema is a lifelong process, and a fundamentally solitary one, not a pre-planned dash to a definitive enlightenment followed by lifelong happiness.
Yet there is a sense in which mythologising of one’s situation plays a part. The Tree of Life and the Qabalah derived from it offer a complete map of consciousness and human experience. What I find most useful in this is the idea of four Worlds applied to the Tree. The conventional occult perspective is that of Yetzirah or Formation, which includes the broad swathe of astral, psychological and magical realities, meta-realities and fantasies. The term ‘collective unconscious’ is a virtual synonym for it. Yetzirah holds a vast compendium of spiritual concepts and imagery, and provides a rich counterpoint and support to the outer world of Assiah (‘Manifestation’), with its intellectual analysis, thought processes and isolated facts. It’s not hard to see how the wide range of alternative religions is rooted in this World. Such Yetziratic systems easily produce the simultaneously stimulating and existentially easing sense of being in sacred time, and linkage to some greater purpose or over-arching story.
What is less well understood, and far more rarely entered, is Beriah (‘Creation’), the world beyond Yetzirah, where forms and thoughts, concepts and goals, all cease to have separate meaning, and are brought to stillness and unity. Living in sacred time can be a useful precursor to that, but dissolving such separation of personal identity and ‘the world’ is a necessary step in spiritual growth.
Crowley was quite clear that the aim should always be a fundamental shift in consciousness. The dislocation of conventional, separate selfhood through the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA is the sole aim he considered worthwhile, and that marks very definitely a step beyond the wildlands of Yetzirah into the coolly focused Silence and spaciousness of Beriah. At that point, the aspirant is essentially united with sacred time, and no longer in a relationship with it.
The point is probably obvious to anyone serious about exploring their True Will, but perhaps needs reiterating for those still not sure what they’re after.
Love is the law, love under will,