Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
“I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life,” says the 58th verse of the first chapter of The Book of the Law. For reasons usually connected to past religious indoctrination, many people take this as a complete rejection of the concept of faith in Thelema. Yet it’s obvious that if we see the whole business as anything but a way to approach life with a fixed philosophy, faith is going to play a major part. Nobody attains the Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA without years of steady, intense practice. Even a rudimentary exercise such as Liber Resh requires some assumptions about how facing the four quarters throughout the day is going to produce a certain level of realisation or heightened aspiration.
Faith is a word with multiple meanings. For Aleister Crowley, raised in a strict religious household, it was a weapon wielded against the dark forces of reasoned investigation. It’s still popular among people terrified that the universe might be as old and vast and complex as scientists say it is. It sustains fundamentalisms of various stripes, belief in the Book of Mormon, confidence in the wild fables of a Carlos Castañeda or an L. Ron Hubbard, or the axioms of many a cosy cult.
Faith and true will are first-cousins. True will is what is leading us, as well as what makes us choose to follow. And much of the time, we can be content to work with it. But there are points where, we while we know the techniques, the ceremonial methods, and all the theory … there’s nothing specific to hang onto. At such points, will (the Ra-Hoor-Khuit, we may say) necessarily becomes faith (the Hoor-Paar-Kraat).
Obviously, the faith of an aspirant to the Thelemic mysteries is different to that of a Christian in that it’s subject to ongoing scrutiny. If a certain mystical or magical process doesn’t work out after a certain period of time, then we move on, or try a different approach.
But that begs the question: what is the period of time to be? Crowley, no slouch in applying himself rigorously to mystical and magical pursuits, took more than seven years to attain K&C after his initiation into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. For many people, it can take far longer … or never occurs. And until it does, it has an aura of obscurity or even unattainability. Part of such an ordeal is about our losing faith that it can occur at all. The aspirant necessarily has to enter into a period of darkness and spiritual dryness in order to include that experience in the approach to any meaningful sort of breakthrough. Pseudo-Thelemic assertions of personal superiority and the importance of self are irrelevant at this point. And we have Crowley’s own records of his career, with its many ups and downs, to affirm this.
Faith is a kind of confidence, but not confidence in something consciously known. It involves a commitment to our own deeper purposes, when we don’t fully understand what those might be. The magician performing a ritual knows his aim, his method and his techniques, so a well-performed rite is likely to yield a result of some kind. Faith, though, applies to the entire picture, the whole enterprise of reaching beyond the known into the partly known. If faith is placed in something that is known, it ceases to be about faith, because it’s about knowledge.
The aspirant is always coming to fresh conclusions, but each of these yields to others in time. That succession of conclusions itself builds faith, which in turn nourishes our expanding expression of true will. But the process isn’t simple. Each degree or grade in the Hermetic systems is more demanding, and leads into more exacting territory, than its predecessor. More aspects of life, including not just mundane things but all the private stuff we prefer not to admit to ourselves, comes into the picture, and a greater swathe of the mind and its offshoots has to be incorporated into each new stage. While we know we have the stamina and understanding to continue the journey to the next phase, we don’t know by what means we can do it.
The crucial difference in the Thelemic version of faith is that unlike the systems of the Old Aeon, it proceeds toward certainty, and doesn’t keep falling back upon itself as an end. It’s a means, a sheet-anchor in the dark-grey night, as well as a hand-hold for our sanity. It’s the stability upon which we can reconstitute will, and move on.
There’s a well-known passage at the end of the section on the Moon card in The Book of Thoth, where Crowley writes:
“Whatever horrors may afflict the soul, whatever abominations may excite the loathing of the heart, whatever terrors may assail the mind, the answer is the same at every stage: ‘How splendid is the adventure!’ ” Faith surely is the springboard for that attitude, when the horror and loathing take over for a while or a season.
There’s also another quote that I like to keep in mind as a sort of astral fridge-magnet. It’s verse 62 of Chapter II, of Liber LXV:
“But these thy prophets; they must cry aloud and scourge themselves; they must cross trackless wastes and unfathomed oceans; to await Thee is the end, not the beginning.”
That, to me, is the most succinct statement possible on how faith fits into the Thelemic mind-scape.
Love is the law, love under will.