Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The following is an edited extract from a Warden’s talk given earlier this year in Toronto.
Alan Moore famously observed once that science “…historically, has always sought to prove that occultists are fraudulent or else deluded;” while “religion, historically, has always sought to prove that occultists are flammable.” We are long past the flammability proving stage, at least for the time being. Ironically, much of the scorn we do have to deal with comes from other occultists (or self-styled occultists), who are afraid of, and thus hostile towards, those who appear to have wandered off the straight and narrow. I’ve never understood people who quote the line at the top of this post, then proceed to act as if it means the opposite of what it says. But it’s easy to find them. They also aren’t very important, whereas friends and family are.
The deeper we get into our own path, the more we’re going to deviate from accepted norms. For instance, the ultimate aim of magick is ecstasy and transcendence of regular mores. How do you aim for that and keep your equilibrium? The fact is, you have to let yourself drift out of the safe zone at times, and trust yourself to the invisible inner compass that lies in the core of what we’re aiming to attain. If we go too far off the main highway for too long, we lose a common basis for sharing experiences.
Mystery schools work off an accepted body of doctrines, formulae and ascending initiatory degrees, because such an approach works. It just does. It clicks into place, and produces a workable atmosphere and a means of contacting higher consciousness. Such schools have to adhere to their core principles and practices, while making space for experiences that arise beyond those. But each school has to stick to its astral knitting: innovation is often unhelpful simply because it simply derails a process that hitherto has produced results.
Yet we also need to go off-track in order to find our most intimate inner truths. Crowley, in his Confessions, remarks in Chapter 66 (yes, it’s a long book):
“I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.”
But clearly, a contradictory situation arises. In trying to speak from within as well as on behalf of an established spiritual tradition, we collide with that annoying thing called “consensual reality.” A sign of emerging spiritual maturity is that we grasp how to straddle these two worlds in which we live, without trying to reconcile them forcibly.
Your parents, your boss, your second-best friend and most of your siblings are quite likely to regard your occult interest as eccentric, or a form of dabbling with unfathomable powers of darkness. And they’re not wholly wrong. Esotericism isn’t an interest that’s central to modern living, so it is eccentric; and you’re bound to bring out the inner darkness at some point in your investigations. That’s largely the point, because the darkness is where that which is holiest is found to be hiding. But your outer posse might not believe that.
At the same time, if you’re going to effect any meaningful changes in your life from all this playing around with discarnate beings and strange energies, you have to make it real in the material world around you. You need to become more open-minded, not less, and more understanding of other people.
This has nothing to be with being virtuous. It’s a simple psychological fact that your ability to relate constructively to other people is directly connected to your ability to relate constructively to yourself. If you gaze meaningfully and intensely at every person you meet, or have an uncontrollable urge to speak of Higher Powers to the uninterested, you might have a screw loose.
I often read stuff online posted by solitary practitioners who want to avoid “the politics” of occult groups. But “the politics” are actually just our own reactions to other people. Everyone else can be irritating if we work hard enough at judging or criticising them. Sane occultism requires withdrawing projections of judgement, not searching for the failings in other people.
The training process in a mystery school founded on tried methods does acknowledge the problem. In the end, it calls directly for more engagement with life, not withdrawal. Indeed, a lot of the criticism you’ll see of Aleister Crowley comes from schools where natural drives and appetites are considered lower things, or dangerous forces that can entrap us in attachment to matter. The fact that spiritual hubris does more lasting harm than a one-night stand or two is brushed aside.
The highest grades of our system require us to include all that we are, not to reject the inconvenient bits. And this follows on from our greater realisations, the visions that we can never articulate in words, or the encounters with beings that just aren’t like us.
No, it isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing project for all of us, even after years of practice. But a key lesson is that failure is only failure when we give up; if we just keep going, then it’s simply part of the educational process. And this includes our more awkward encounters with people who don’t understand what we’re trying to do, nor why.
The options we have with others who don’t grasp what we’re about are to maintain silence, to explain things more carefully with simple analogies, or to disengage totally. The third option is the least desirable, since we lose any ability to control the outcome. The other two are difficult; but what can work for us is the sense others will have that we’re serious about what we do, but not desperately serious about ourselves as we do it.
Love is the law, love under will,