Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
William Butler Yeats and Aleister Crowley detested each other, and Crowley’s followers, even today, denigrate the Irish poet. But the fact remains that while Crowley’s name was being dragged through the gutter press, and his limited edition books were scarcely selling, Yeats was earning his Nobel Prize in literature. At a time when poetry is hardly read any more, Yeats’ work still sells in respectable numbers. His mastery of word-symbols is a key aspect of his best work’s magick.
His most famous observation on occultism was as follows:
“I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, and been the foundations of nearly all magical practices. These doctrines are:
“That the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.
“That the borders of our memories are shifting, and that our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.
“That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.”
This still remains one of the most cogent summaries ever made about magick. Yet probably three-quarters of all the people who read it fail to appreciate the depth of Yeats’ grasp of the significance of symbols. With like-minded fellow authors, he worked to stir up all Ireland with them, and his own magical career lasted through parts of four decades.
Symbols can be curious things. Many of us remember English classes where a teacher asked us to ‘explain’ a symbol in a poem or book, and we dutifully wrote out what we figured its significance was. But the whole point of a symbol is that contains and communicates far more than a definable meaning. Symbols are living things to an extent rarely recognised in the English literature classroom. They comprise the language of the subconscious, which does not limit itself to specific statements, but reflects situations in the conscious self that cramp creative expression. And the magician needs, over time, to develop a familiarity, indeed a dialogue, with symbols arising from dreams. I sometimes find a ritual produces little or no discernible result, but they may stir a dream the same night that elucidates the area of blockage. Dreams offer a way for the psyche to relieve chronic stress-points, and in turn, magick is bound to emphasise the presence of such stresses.
Jung taught that there are universal symbols arising from a collective unconsciousness, but there are also personal ones that recur for each person. A similar division was suggested by Rene Schwaller de Lubicz, the French-born esotericist whose concept of the ‘symbolique’ implied something much more comprehensive than a simple symbol with one or two referents. As examples of the symbolique, he wrote in his book Sacred Science (pg. 120):
“The symbolique includes imaged writing as well as gestures and colours, all aimed at transcribing in a functional manner the esoteric significance of a teaching whose inner meaning remains inexpressible by any other form.” In this definition, he included Egyptian hieroglyphs, his own deepest fascination, insisting they contained encoded information that could not be represented by more literal means. His theories have never gained much traction among scholars, but he is still worth reading, with caution, on esoteric subjects.
A Qabalistic division, applicable especially to dreams, would be between Nepheshic symbols, arising from the Nephesh, the personal or vital self, and Neshamic symbols, which have a far more transpersonal or numinous quality. What Jung called ‘great dreams,’ where the dreamer awakens feeling stirred or profoundly disturbed by the dream imagery, call in their symbols from the Neshamah, the transpersonal or supernal level, and in many cases these would correspond to Schwaller’s symboliques; or to Yeats’ idea of the symbols that evoke “the great mind and the great memory.”
Many people are drawn to Thelema because of its innate skeptical attitude, but this can easily become a rigidly held symbol (pun intended) of over-strict empiricism. No-one can do much with magick without an openness to letting symbols speak to consciousness. A successful practitioner – one who works through the ordeals and dry phases of the work repeatedly, until new insight dawns – has to develop a respectful conversation with his or her psyche’s unique symbol system. It functions as a major indicator of the nature of True Will and its problems, and eventually, helps nudge us in the direction of the gateway to the higher states of consciousness that are the reward of consistent practice.
Group ceremonial work, especially, is a useful means of making us more comfortable with transcendent imagery. Over time, exposing us to the sublime in a group setting, it can remove inhibitions against the inner self, and helps lay the foundations for a deeper, more intimate dialogue with the Beloved.
Love is the law, love under will.