LOGOS XIV: Introduction to Magic, Vol. I – ch. “Barriers” (Video Reading)

THIS ENTRY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

My latest YouTube video is a reading of Giovanni Colazza’s (who wrote under the pseudonym Leo) essay “Barriers,” which forms a chapter of part one of the book Introduction to Magic, Vol. I: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus, written by contributors from the Italian magical working group the Ur Group (Gruppo di Ur), including its most notable member, Julius Evola.

This essay mainly centers on the idea that humans are unaware of or simply don’t care about the limitations they perceive as affecting them. Human beings don’t care to probe what may lie beyond the limits of the physical world and body. Yet Colazza believes beyond these barriers lie power and greatness beyond our normal comprehension.

I’m not saying I necessarily agree or disagree with him. However, it’s intriguing to speculate on this matter.

Please enjoy the video.

LOGOS XIII: “The Initiatory Supreme Being Question…” (Essay Repost)

THIS ENTRY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

I have written an essay dealing with the question posed to initiates of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows regarding the supreme being. Whoever published it on Heart in Hand: The Modern Odd Fellow’s Guide decided to include a number of graphics in the article for some reason.

Below is the text of the essay. (Without the graphics.)


Eye of Providence - Wikipedia
The eye of providence or eye of God is an important symbol in both Odd Fellowship and Freemasonry.

An important question is asked of candidates attempting to join I.O.O.F. lodges before they attend their Initiatory degree ritual, the ritual that will prospectively make them into members of the lodge which is providing the degree. This question regards their belief in a supreme being, and in this essay I’d like to examine this question and all of its terms and see if we can’t tease out some esoteric, philosophical, and religious speculations, considerations, and thoughts on the matter

So, to begin at the beginning—or, rather, even before the beginning, as this occurs prior to the ritual itself—we have the candidate, who has been elected to join a lodge and take the Initiatory degree, being asked questions in the ante-room outside of the lodge room or hall in which most of the officers are present and organizing in order to perform the ritual of the degree. There are a number of questions asked of the candidate, but the most important and relevant may be one regarding what we commonly think of as “God”:

“Do you believe in the existence of a Supreme, Intelligent Being, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe?”

VIEWS OF THE SUPREME BEING

Note that this inquiry does not go, “Do you believe in God?” or, “Do you believe in gods?” It asks if the candidate believes in some supremacy which is cognizant, as well as creative and sustaining in totality.

Many, if not most, would simply consider this supreme being God, and call it a day. It may be an easy enough answer for many Christians, who in my personal (note: not in any way official) estimation make up the bulk of the I.O.O.F. It would also be an easy answer for other theists, such as Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and certain kinds of Hindus. (Hindu views on the divine vary considerably.) Wiccans, who make up a relatively small religious group and are hardly represented in the I.O.O.F., often, though not always (Wicca includes a highly diverse set of beliefs, with little standard doctrine) believe in a supreme duality, a God and a Goddess, although for certain Wiccans these dual beings are in fact one.

However, there are other possible views which, in answering affirmatively to the aforementioned question, could be accommodated. “Theism,” as defined by Oxford Languages, is the “belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures,” and it is arguable that this is the most likely belief of the candidate answering the supreme being question.

There are various types of theism, monotheism (belief in one deity, usually a supreme deity) being the most common. Others include duotheism (belief in two deities) and polytheism (belief in multiple deities). Yet if we question what it is we mean by “god,” “God,” or “deity,” further ideas arise, and with them the need for clarification.

Deism is worth considering. “Deism” is defined by Oxford Languages as the “belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe.” It further notes, “The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.” While there are not many deists around today, there are some, and surely some have entered various fraternal orders such as those of Odd Fellowship or Freemasonry. Additionally, deism generally fulfills the rest of the terms of the question: deism usually regards the supreme being as intelligent (i.e. not merely a force), and also regards this being as the creator and preserver of the universe.

Two other types of theism—pantheism and panentheism—are worth mentioning here and, while it may have behooved me to mention them before, alongside the paragraph on theism, I feel they deserve their own paragraphs for discussion:

Pantheism is the belief that existence itself, reality and everything, is or is identical with divinity or deity; that, in other words, the universe is God. This is a belief more common to New Age or generally spiritual types, as well as esotericists and some types of pagans (including certain Wiccans), Hindus, tantrikas, and mystics more than others, at least by my experience. Is it compatible with the supreme being question? Well, generally pantheists consider this universe-god an immanent, all-encompassing being, and so supreme by the fact that it is everything. Some pantheists consider this universe-god intelligent, while others do not. Many consider it to be self-created, and so the creator of existence, and by virtue of being existence itself, the preserver of existence.

Panentheism is like pantheism, except that it adds the additional tenet of a god that, while being identical with existence, at once also transcends existence or is in some sense beyond space and time. This belief is likely to fulfill the supreme being question in the same way as a belief in pantheism would, with only one additional caveat that wouldn’t make much of an outstanding difference. Panentheism has been used to help explain the philosophy of 19th century German idealist G.W.F. Hegel.

There are other types of belief regarding divinity, such as, for example, transtheism, ietsism, ignosticism, monolatry, henotheism, kathenotheism, omnism, apatheism, atheism, agnosticism, ignosticism, pandeism, panendeism, and autotheism. (Still others abound.) Some of these could be held by the candidate and they could answer affirmatively to the supreme being question, while for others they could not, while for yet still others answering the question becomes more of a theoretical matter.

SUPREME, INTELLIGENT BEING, CREATOR AND PRESERVER OF THE UNIVERSE

Let’s now look at the terms featured in the supreme being question itself, and analyze them. What is it that the candidate is assenting to? I want to look at the terms of this question in detail and see what can be gleaned from them.

“Supreme”: Oxford Languages defines this term as “superior to all others.” A supreme being, therefore, is ontologically superior to all other beings and states of being. Being superior to all states of being, this supreme being must naturally be the most profound thing about which, and of which, anything can be expressed, if anything can be expressed about it—it may, in fact, be so superior to anything known that it is simply inexpressible by any terms, conventional or otherwise. (Say, mathematical.) It may ultimately be so superior to anything that it is incomprehensible, i.e. unable to be thought about or conceived of. This inconceivability is the argument of the Qabalah (as spelled in the Hermetic tradition; it is known as Kabbalah in its original Jewish form)—that God is so profoundly above and beyond anything that nothing can be said of it; in fact, only things that are not of it can be stated. (This is known as apophatic or negative theology.)

St. Anselm of Canterbury, a Catholic monk and philosopher of the 11th century, stated that it was possible to conceive of God, despite his supremacy, only that God was the highest thing that could be conceived of. (He even developed an argument for the existence of God based on his naturally-assumed supremacy.)

“Intelligent”: Merriam-Webster defines “intelligent” as “a: possessing intelligence” and “b: guided or directed by intellect: RATIONAL.” The same dictionary defines “rational” as “a: having reason or understanding” and “b: relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason: REASONABLE.”

Can we imagine a supreme being which is rational, reasonable, or intelligent? Is the way to do this to imagine the world itself designed rationally, reasonably, or intelligently? Odd Fellowship does not demand one believe in intelligent design as opposed to biological evolution, or even a generally intelligent design outside of evolution. (The deist would believe God would have simply allowed the universe to evolve on its own.) However, even if the universe took its own course outside of the creator’s development, that doesn’t imply the creator is not intelligent.

Another way of looking at this term, “intelligent”—since, though it has particular definitions, we know that colloquially it is fairly broad—is that it simply means “conscious,” in that there is some conscious aspect to the supreme being which makes it a being as opposed to a mere force. How this consciousness is conceived of is highly variable and, like the entire supreme being question, to at least a considerable degree a matter of the candidate’s own understanding.

What about a supreme being would be conscious, and why? One good argument is that, since the being in question is supreme, it in some sense is possessed of all qualities whatsoever, and one of these qualities must naturally include consciousness, so naturally it must, in some sense, be conscious. However, this is only speculation of course. 

“Being”: in the sense in which the term is being used in the question, we can assume “being” here really means “a being.” In this sense, Oxford Languages defines “being” as “a real or imaginary living creature or entity, especially an intelligent one.” A being is set apart from a thing by the fact that it is living or conscious, and therefore a creature or entity. It is likely to be intelligent, as the definition states, although this isn’t necessary.

A being partakes of being, has being in and of the world. This is the case with humans and animals, stones and plants and stars. The Heideggerian term Dasein is used to signify the perception humans have of their existence in reality (there are also more intricate and profound interpretations of this term which I am not philosophically-literate enough to understand), but one must wonder what a god experiences of its godhood. A supreme being would not be subject to such human experiences or perceptions, and its experience of being could be whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted. Its experience of being could literally be everything all the time, or nothing none of the time, or anything else.

The other important definition of “being,” an adjectival definition of “existence,” is a category, the most fundamental category or trait we can conceive of. A supreme being’s being or non-being is what, given that being’s responsibility for creating and preserving existence, determines whether we ever would have existed or not. Yet, according to Heidegger, who believed humans provide the ground for meaning in the world (Heidegger contributed extensively to existentialism), “Whether god lives or remains dead, is not decided by human religiosity, still less by the theological aspirations of philosophy and science. Whether God is God happens out of, and within, the situation of being.” Perhaps, then, being is God, or even precedes God—but that’s somewhat of a digression.

“Creator”: Oxford Languages defines “creator” as “a person or thing that brings something into existence.” Naturally this means that the supreme being in question is presumed to have the quality of being creative. The supreme being actively creates of course, or at the very least has created. That seems straightforward enough. However, what I personally find a much more tantalizing question is why the supreme being would wish to create anything besides itself in the first place. (Not that any of this is required belief, merely interesting speculation.)

I won’t go into this in too great of depth, as there are many volumes of books written on this exact topic that can be discussed. However, there is one author discussing this topic who I think is worth referencing.

Aleister Crowley, in his sacred and supposedly divinely inspired text Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law), wrote that “Every man and every woman is a star,” a star being a core point of existence and a divine manifestation of unique and ultimate Godhood in an Infinite universe which itself is also God.

He commented on the verse thusly:

“See… the demonstration that each ‘star’ is the Centre of the Universe to itself, and that a ‘star’ simple, original, absolute, can add to its omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence without ceasing to be itself; that its one way to do this is to gain experience, and that therefore it enters into combinations in which its true Nature is for awhile disguised, even from itself. Analogously, an atom of carbon may pass through myriad Proteus-phases, appearing in Chalk, Chloroform, Sugar, Sap, Brain and Blood, not recognizable as “itself” the black amorphous solid, but recoverable as such, unchanged by its adventures.

“This theory is the only one which explains “why” the Absolute limited itself, and why It does not recognize Itself during its cycle of incarnations. It disposes of “Evil” and the Origin of Evil; without denying Reality to “Evil”, or insulting our daily observation and our common sense.”

My understanding of that passage is this: by the term “the Absolute limited itself,” Crowley here means the “Absolute” (the supreme being or thing) created anything outside of itself, and here he’s saying the Absolute did this because it wished to experience something that was not itself, and that it purposefully does not recognize itself as the supreme being when it exists as, say, a man or woman, or a rock or planet, because it wishes to have the “adventure” of being not-supreme, while at the same time allowing this adventure to “add” to its supremacy. In fact, according to Crowley, this is the only way it can add to its supremacy.

This, of course, is only one answer to the question of why the supreme being created anything, why there is something (in a world assumed to have a supreme being) rather than nothing. It is also a rather esoteric view at that.

Certain Christian denominations teach that God created the universe in order to glorify himself, that he actively wishes for glory and perhaps worship, and desires a universe and creatures that will glorify his presence.

Others teach that God is so omnibenevolent, so actively loving, that he created the universe and particularly the creatures therein in order to express love to them. This may be the basis of the idea that God wishes to see human beings happy, and from this one may infer that we should act in a way that would make others happy. According to this line of thinking, the ethics of Odd Fellowship proceed naturally.

In certain schools of Indian and Hindu philosophy, the Divine induces lila or “play,” by which it conceals itself as the universe and all things within it as a form of creative play. Alan Watts described this as a kind of hide-and-seek game that God is playing with itself, “pretending” to be the universe and even human beings, who are themselves (normally) ignorant of their own nature as that very Divinity.

“Sustainer”: “sustainer” is defined by Dictionary.com as “a person or thing that sustains.” A synonym is “preserver,” according to Oxford Languages “a person who maintains something in its original or existing state or condition.”

Now, this definition of “preserver” doesn’t totally do justice to whatever we presume the supreme being is providing for the universe, since we know the universe and its components are in constant flux. The Buddha, Shakyamuni Siddhartha Gautama, preached that one of the marks of existence is impermanence, or continuous change, for all things, everywhere, and I have yet to see anyone refute that this is the case.

However, the very base state of the cosmos, the fact of its existence, has not changed, and it will not cease to exist, if ever, until some indeterminate point in time. Is this what we mean by the universe being sustained, and perhaps also having a sustainer?

What, also, is being sustained? Is it a mere universe? A multiverse? Some infinite multiverse in which there is no limit to the number of worlds that exist? And then one must ask why just such a kind of world would exist in the first place!

A little digression: one of the principal deities of Hinduism, Vishnu, is said to be the ultimate preserver of the universe according to those who adhere to the view of the Trimurti, or triple-deity configuration which contains Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer).

  “Universe”: Oxford Languages defines “universe” as “all existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos. The universe is believed to be at least 10 billion light years in diameter and contains a vast number of galaxies; it has been expanding since its creation in the Big Bang about 13 billion years ago.” This tends to be our typical understanding of the cosmos.

However, as I mentioned above, there is the notion of the multiverse, and it has become more popular as a topic of discussion both among physicists and philosophers in recent years. To what extent this multiverse, if it exists, reaches in terms of the number of dimensions out there could be anything from one to infinite. There could simply be a parallel universe bordering our own.

All in all, it is highly likely that answering all of these questions correctly, and especially answering the supreme being question in the affirmative, is necessary in order to proceed on to the ritual proper and ultimately to be initiated into the lodge. (Whether the Initiatory ritual and some of its preliminary rules may have changed over time, I cannot say. However, according to the Digest of the Laws, Decisions and Enactments of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin I.O.O.F. … 18471883 (adopted June, 1883), “No Lodge should initiate a candidate who cannot honestly and fairly answer the constitutional questions as required by the rules of the Order.” Some lodges may, in certain instances, allow the candidate to retry an answer, but I can’t confirm that.)

CAVEATS?: A VIDEO ON THE SUPREME BEING AND PROPOSED LEGISLATION

In a video (uploaded to Vimeo in 2021) regarding the supreme being in I.O.O.F. ritual and produced by T.J. Walkup of Yerba Buena Lodge No. 15, several Odd Fellows were interviewed on their thoughts on the supreme being as it is part of the I.O.O.F. They were also interviewed regarding upcoming proposed legislation from the Sovereign Grand Lodge (Bill No. 22 (2019)) that would probably affect certain members’ ability to remain part of the order, in that it makes atheism and agnosticism a suspendable or bannable offense and states that, “Loss of belief in the existence of a Supreme Being is sufficient cause for suspension or expulsion of a member who may be tried for such according to the Code of General Laws.”

Peter V. Sellars, an author on the panel, noted that the idea of the supreme being can be more nebulous than what, for instance, I have stated above in examining the terms that are part of the supreme being question. He also noted that members can go through periods of outright atheism, agnosticism, deism, or even dystheism (viewing God as not wholly good and possibly bad) and still remain Odd Fellows.

“For me, today, one time in my life, my parents were my supreme being,” he said. “I don’t always believe in God. Terrible things have happened in my life where the way I justify believing in God—God isn’t a good God…”

He went on:

“You could classify me as a deist or agnostic over the last 30 years. So, being a member of this order, because I’ve lost that faith, somebody wants to remove me from the order?” (In reference to the proposed legislation.)

Jack Crispin Cain, another member on the panel stated, “I also think we should include a discussion about the nature of faith, because I think it’s really important to understand that the basic thing that many people who believe in God go through is doubt, and I think every human being has that, because the very practical things we see in our day-to-day lives don’t always include a vision of God. Our bodies are limited in their scope and what they can perceive in the entire world and the entire universe around us, and God is greater than us, God is bigger than us, and the mysteries that are encapsulated by the concept of God are beyond our comprehension.”

He went on:

“It’s [faith] a difficult step. Not every human being is capable of this… Odd Fellowship can be a part of building faith for people. It doesn’t have to be, but I can see how it could be. But I think it’s really important that we not abandon those people who are going through doubt[s], who describe themselves as agnostic or atheistic… it [the nature of one’s view on God] could change for anybody: up or down, good or bad…”

Walkup (the interviewer) and Sellars went on to discuss the fact that the I.O.O.F., as a recognized non-profit in the United States, is party to a non-discrimination clause, which in part makes it unable to discriminate on the basis of religion. If a lodge does discriminate on the basis of belief (such as, hypothetically speaking, barring atheists or agnostics from entry), they noted, it could be sued, and few if any lodges can afford to be sued.

Ultimately, how can a group, fraternal order or otherwise, dictate what occurs in the human heart? The conscience is dynamic: it changes over time, and I don’t believe that we should be telling people that they need to constantly remain believers in any particular being or lack thereof in order to elevate the character of humankind. In the end, universal fraternity, friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, and charity are what truly matter, are they not?

Perhaps I’m getting too opinionated… 

LAST THOUGHTS

Odd Fellowship, for some, and perhaps for many, is a straightforward process: you answer some questions, go through some rituals, and participate at some meetings and functions. For others it, and especially its rituals—even their minutest or preliminary parts—are opportunities to think deeply about fundamental and important questions regarding belief, the universe, God, religion, philosophy, and so much else. (There’s a lot I haven’t even touched on because I haven’t even examined the rest of the Initiatory ritual!) I think taking the time to really reflect on some profound ideas in regard to even the smallest aspects of the process of advancing through the I.O.O.F. is an opportunity for further growth as an individual.

I encourage everyone to view their journey in any fraternal order as a spiritual ordeal. In fact, I encourage everyone to view their journey through life as a spiritual ordeal, a lesson on the deepest aspects of what it means to be human.

LOGOS XII: « “There’s Nothing Special About Meditation” » (Essay-to-Video)

THIS ENTRY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

I’ve recorded a video essay or recited audiovisual version of my previously published essay “There’s Nothing Special About Meditation” (published in Thelemic Union on April 21, 2020), which was also re-published as a LOGOS! entry here on this blog. (See “LOGOS IV: ‘There’s Nothing Special About Meditation’ (Article Repost).”)

Check it out:



LOGOS XI: “The Multiplicity of Thelemas” (Essay Repost)

THIS ESSAY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

This essay or article, published September 1, 2021 in and by Thelemic Union, is one I penned exploring the problem of dogmatism and codification in Thelema and for Thelemites generally. Below I’ve reposted it, so read on and enjoy.


I’ve been accused a few times of trying to turn Thelema into something it’s not, of attempting to somehow create for myself a type of Thelema that fits my own version of how this philosophy and spiritual path should operate. While I’ll concede that I’ve come to terms with The Book of the Law and many of Crowley’s writings in my own way, I don’t deny other Thelemites their own personal understandings of Thelema, so I ask: why should you deny me mine?

In fact, why shouldn’t there be as many versions of Thelema out there as there are Thelemites? “Every man and every woman is a star,” after all, and if this is the case, and we are, after all, in our own particular orbits, going forth and shining brilliantly (like such stars, as Crowley analogized) as individuals as we do so, why shouldn’t we each get to determine for ourselves what this path means for us?

“Every man and woman is not only a part of God, but the Ultimate God,” Crowley once wrote. Indeed, he stated that “the Individual is the Autarch” in Magick Without Tears, and noting that, wouldn’t this autarch, let alone Ultimate God, have some say in what they can reasonably decide to think?!

In fact, Liber OZ states unequivocally that “man has the right to think what he will” Notice, if you read OZ, that there is no addendum to the “think” clause. (Or any of the others, for that matter.)

A lot of this probably seems redundant, but I bring it up to make a certain point: there seems to be this trend in Thelema that there are increasing numbers of Thelemites present in our community who assume there is an orthodox and orthopraxic take on the path that needs to be believed and practiced in a certain way by other Thelemites, respectively, in order to even make them Thelemites. However, we shouldn’t need to codify the path for others, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, let’s begin at the beginning, so to speak (emphasis mine). “Do what thou wilt shall be the WHOLE of the law,” we read in the various Thelemic texts, most notably Liber AL. It is, as we see the whole of the Law, the whole law, and, furthermore (emphasis mine), “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.” These phrases, taken primarily from The Book of the Law, seem to be insisting that there’s really no dogma in Thelema beyond the Law of Thelema itself. What, then, do we make of the rest: the issues of deities, magick, mysticism, planes, Qabalah, tarot, and all the other cognate topics Crowley wrote on?

I would say that beyond the Law itself, the rest of the Thelemic system, inasmuch as it is a system, is made up of strong suggestions at best, and minor suggestions at the periphery.

For many Thelemites, this rank of importance may look like something akin to taking The Holy Books of Thelema, or the Class A texts—and namely Liber AL—most importantly, and placing the rest of Crowley’s writings on a secondary rung. But of course, we can’t be certain of the beliefs or practices of all or even most Thelemites: I’m only speculating here.

Regardless, a common theme is that there’s a thing for hanging onto every word Crowley wrote, even if it was a footnote in a diary, as if it’s infallible dogma, at the very least among some Thelemites. Now I’ll admit that Crowley was naturally and most likely a good judge of his own experience, especially when it came to things like, say, the practice of ritual magick, or the reception or writing of Liber AL; additionally, as the founder and chief source of primary material on Thelema, it makes sense that one would look to his work for information on the topic. And so no one can blame you for lending him an ear on the various subjects making up the Thelema-sphere, but ultimately there’s no topic which Crowley wrote on for which he is the infallible guide. Crowley is not some kind of pope, and his word is not to be believed without questioning.

As he himself wrote (emphasis 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.”

He also actively praised doubt, as, for instance, in The Book of Lies: “I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening; I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning.”

The dogmatism that, whether actual or simply a misrepresentation, appears to be an aspect of Thelema, drives some people away from the path. It has certainly driven some to chaos magic, which often appears (and perhaps rightly so) to onlookers to be a less precept-leaden alternative.

Part of rejecting blind dogmatism when it comes to Thelema is learning to appreciate the context in which Liber AL, The Holy Books, Crowley’s works generally, and works on the topic of Thelema more broadly, were written, as well as learning to appreciate Crowley’s biases and potential errors and the biases and errors of various Thelemic authors. No-one is incapable of committing a logical fallacy, or committing one to writing. Additionally, knowing when it’s best to utilize reason over faith is extremely helpful. (This isn’t to say faith is never warranted.)

It’s also a fact that Crowley published a number of contradictions in his writings—that, or his opinions on things changed over time—and so, if one is to believe him on the reality or falsity of certain topics, one may actively have to choose which “Crowley” to believe.

This then brings us to the question: what exactly do we believe Crowley on at all? And why? Again we are met with the fact that the whole of the Law is laid out for us very simply, in one phrase (and its follow-up: “Love is the law…”), and the rest of the system of Thelema, inasmuch as it is a system, is at best a series of exhortations to believe or practice in a particular way or from among a certain spectrum of ways. Yet an exhortation is not an absolute demand, and we are led back to the fact that we are only ever to do something if it is our true will.

This is why I actively cherry-pick Crowley, and why I make no fuss about other Thelemites doing the same. Crowley wrote so much material, some of it in which he changes his mind over time, some of it in which his views have become dated, some of it in which his views appear simply to clash with what we know about the universe, and some of which, most importantly, one simply may not agree. And, given that “man has the right to think what he will,” should one not only admit into one’s belief system those things which one finds meaningful and reasonable?

“Act passionately; think rationally; be Thyself,” we read in Liber Librae. How can one act passionately if one has no individuality from which to act, if all one’s actions (or more specifically spiritual practices) are informed by the opinion of one man, as opposed to differing sources or one’s own ingenium? And how can one think rationally if, instead of placing critical thinking at the helm of one’s operation in the world, one places blind faith in stultifying and uncompromising dogma, for which one would refuse to see any alternative? And how can one be oneself if, instead of being defined by going along their own particular path through the universe, they simply tread Crowley’s (or someone else’s, for that matter), instead?

LOGOS X: “Anarchist, Thelemite, Odd Fellow: A Conflicted Initiate (and an Account of the Initiatory Degree)” (Article Repost)

THIS ENTRY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

I recently published this essay as an article in Heart in Hand, an Odd Fellows blog by the wonderful Ainslie Heilich. Please enjoy.


The motto of Odd Fellowship, “Friendship, Love, and Truth,” adorned by various symbols of Odd Fellowship.

WHAT IS ODD FELLOWSHIP? WHAT IS THE I.O.OF.?

In 2018 I was initiated into the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) at an Odd Fellows lodge in my town, under the 0°, White, or Initiatory degree. It was me and two other candidates being initiated that night in the lodge room, if I remember correctly.

The month leading up to my initiation I had been scoping out the Order, getting a feel for its history and customs, its tenets and traditions, the members of this particular lodge, and what participation in the organization actually meant.

The I.O.O.F. has a long history, and is one of America’s oldest fraternities. In fact, its history stretches back even further than the founding of America itself. One of the oldest secret societies in the world, the early history of the organization is bathed in obscurity, with some even claiming that there were Odd Fellows as far back as the time of Roman emperors’ reigns. (This claim is quite dubious, however.)

Others say that Odd Fellowship evolved out of the European medieval guild system, and that during the 12th through 14th centuries guilds for those who practiced “odd” or irregular trades began popping up, thus leading to the existence of Odd Fellowship, albeit informally. (Freemasonry is similarly tied to the medieval guild system, which supported stone masons during the Middle Ages.) Various lodges and halls for Odd Fellows are documented as having existed from 1650 onward, a number with their own charters and oaths and some with particular rituals and traditions.

Regardless of when, exactly, Odd Fellowship was established, there were numerous Odd Fellow societies in England by the 1700s. These eventually made their way to the United States, where in 1819 Thomas Wildey founded the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.) in Baltimore, Maryland. The I.O.O.F. was an American breakaway from the British Independent Order of Odd Fellows–Manchester Unity, founded in the Manchester, England area in 1810.

Several different Odd Fellows lodges existed in New York City around the time of the founding of the American I.O.O.F., but the I.O.O.F. has since become the largest organization of Odd Fellowship in the world, with two other major branches today existing alongside it: the aforementioned Independent Order of Odd Fellows–Manchester Unity, and the largely African-American Grand United Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (G.U.O.O.F.S.).

The oath of the Odd Fellow has long been one of aid to society: its historic command is, “Visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” It should be known that Odd Fellows societies essentially functioned as life insurance agencies before such a service came to exist in society. However, this is not to diminish the fact that Odd Fellowship teaches aid and relief of the distressed as virtuous traits, that by loving kindness and compassion the world is made better.

In 1851 a degree system for women, known as a the International Association of Rebekah Assemblies (or simply the Rebekahs) was instated within the I.O.O.F., and while many women joined, the regular lodge system of the Odd Fellows, once reserved only for men, and the Rebekahs, once reserved only for women, have since become co-ed.

It is quite true that the I.O.O.F. acts as a consistent form of aid or insurance for its members, and so the perks of joining are valuable, however, it offers subtler, deeper benefits as well, in the form of moral growth. (Which, to me, means psycho-spiritual growth.) Ritual drama in the form of initiation raises members to better versions of themselves, ingraining in themselves moral and philosophical tenets that can be brought to aid society at large.

The I.O.O.F. and, indeed, all Odd Fellow organizations are by and large service organizations and to a substantial extent charities: some of their primary objectives are to help others, alleviate suffering, and otherwise benefit the downtrodden. Typically, efforts are made to improve the local community wherever an Odd Fellows lodge is located.

From an outside perspective, those with an eye for fraternalism might see the I.O.O.F. as standing somewhere between a benefit society and a spiritual or ethical empowerment organization. In recent years certain sects of the Odd Fellows have morphed into organizations that look more or less like Rotary Clubs rather than guardians of any sort of arcane wisdom. However, I don’t believe that can be said of all of Odd Fellowship, and in my experience certain aspects of Odd Fellowship are spiritually, socially, and psychologically beneficial.

It was with a spiritual undertaking and a curiosity in whatever wisdom the Odd Fellows were preserving that I decided to join them.

MY INITIATION

Initiation and initiatory ritual is important in nearly every secret society and Western esoteric or fraternal order, and is a process whereby one is bestowed a kind of status not had before the rite. From a Thelemic perspective it is “the journey inward” (as per Crowley), and ideally affects a change in consciousness, a raising of the perspective to a new height by the revelation of some discreet truth or wisdom by means of the language of symbol and ritual drama.

I can certainly say that there was some element of all of this present in taking my White degree. And, while I am bound by oath and secrecy not to divulge a number of the particularities of my initiation, I can give a general idea of some of the symbols employed and lessons imparted, at least insofar as what they meant to me.

This initiation also had a certain character to it given that I am a confirmed Minerval (0°) in Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), another secret society and fraternal order, and a baptized Thelemite and member of its eclessiastical arm Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, the Gnostic Catholic Church. The fact that I assent to many of the ideas put forth by the receiver or writer of The Book of the Law, Aleister Crowley, and the novel ideas inherent to Thelema and the New Aeon, both meshed and clashed in interesting ways with what I discovered about Odd Fellowship.

As an aside: for those Odd Fellows and others reading who are unfamiliar with Thelema, Thelema is a system of spiritual progress, philosophy, or mystical new religious movement initiated by the writer Aleister Crowley in 1904 which declares that every human being has an inherent nature, will, purpose, and plan in life known as the true will, and that by methods of spiritual development known as magick and mysticism, one can bring this true will to light from the depths of the unconscious. Thelema also holds that each person is intimately connected with a personal higher self or “genius” known as the Holy Guardian Angel, a guide to the true will, and that union with, knowledge of, and communication with this entity or nature may be necessary for discovering the true will. Ordo Templi Orentis and its ecclesiastical arm, Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, base their conduct around the foundational text of Thelema, Liber AL vel Legis or The Book of the Law.

In the I.O.O.F. system, there are four basic degrees, several higher degrees, and various side or “fun” degrees. There are also auxiliary degrees traditionally meant for women, as well as the aforementioned organization traditionally meant for women (known by one name as the Daughters of Rebekah, or simply the Rebekahs), as well as youth lodges, organizations, and the degrees that come with them. The four standard or lodge degrees are the Initiatory or White degree (0°), the Friendship or Pink degree (1°), the [Brotherly] Love or Blue degree (2°), and the Truth or Scarlet degree (3°).

Anyway, leading up to my initiation I was taught first, if I remember correctly, about the three links, or the three-linked chain, the primary symbol of Odd Fellowship or the I.O.OF.. This image includes three chain links, often each of a different color, each signifying one of the primary principles of Odd Fellowship: friendship, [brotherly] love, and truth. (Amicitia Amor et Veritas.) These links are joined together, essentially to show their inseparability. This is as if to ask: how can they exist apart?

The three links of Odd Fellowship.

These ideas being established as the basis of the Order, I was told that the only requirement to join was belief in a supreme being.

Now my view of deity has always been complicated, and I sometimes find myself coming around to the agnostic view, but a lot of the time I’d say I hold something like Spinoza’s view of God, or of panendeism, of a transcendent yet interpenetrative force that gave rise to and is yet one with the established cosmos.

Would you call a force, such as that which may have produced the Big Bang, the same as a being? What separates the two? Consciousness? Well, I have no way of knowing whether the thing that is the basis of our reality is conscious or not, so I choose to be silent about it. That explanation seemed good enough for the Odd Fellows at my local lodge, and soon they allowed me to initiate.

So, not to go too much into detail of the initiatory ritual itself, but the White degree seemed relatively brief, included some rhyme schemes, and much of it I spent hoodwinked—that is, blinded by a spectacles-like device known as a hoodwink—as well as bound to some degree, if I remember correctly. (It was several years ago, and I may be confusing this bondage with that of another rite I underwent. Forgive me if I’m misrepresenting anything here.)

I recall several symbols which, now that I know, are particularly important within the context of the White degree: these include the eye of God, the scythe, the skull and cross-bones, and the triple-chain, mentioned above.

An initiatory banner depicting the symbols important to the White, initiatory, or 0 degree of the I.O.O.F. These symbols are likewise important to Odd Fellowship in general.

The chain we’ve briefly covered, and I’ll do so in more depth below as I discuss the issues of being at once an anarchist, Odd Fellow, and Thelemite; so next let’s look at the scythe:

A great blog on the topic of Odd Fellowship known as Heart in Hand makes some interesting remarks about the symbol of the scythe to the initiate Odd Fellow. In an article on the symbol, author theconductor1819 writes, “One of Odd Fellowship’s most recognizable symbols is the scythe. As you saw above [the article includes a video of a man utilizing a scythe in a video above this text], it can cut grass, but its most important job is to harvest tall crops like wheat. To understand the rural imagery of the scythe it is important to understand its job in field work as well as the notions of sowing, growth, and reaping.”

The author explains that the scythe is associated with the Roman deity Saturn, who himself is associated with time and its passage, and therefore the insubstantiality of events. Note that the hourglass, as a symbol for impermanence and the passage of time and fleeting nature of things, is also an important symbol to Odd Fellows.

The author also notes the most important aspect and use of the scythe, for harvesting or reaping, and it is in this sense that the implement is associated with the grim reaper, the personification of death who comes to reap the living. Yet the scythe not only reaps life. In a sense, it is the reaper of thought, action, and everything else that comes to fruition as a result of causation.

As the author writes:

“The scythe with its rustic simplicity is bound to the statement “As you sow, so shall you reap,” a notion found throughout world civilizations. For humans to live, we must produce. We must produce food so we may eat. We must produce thought so we may evaluate and bring ideas to fruition and then begin again. Universal law is very specific: if you plant wheat you will harvest wheat—not beans.  Our whole life is a farm with sowing, growth, and reaping.

“It is important to see the scythe as more than an implement. Its shape and the job it performs in the context of farming has lessons for all Odd Fellows. It is used not merely to reap golden grain for the sheaf, but, in the field of mind, heart, and soul, to gather every precious stalk, every opening flower, every desirable fruit. We must encourage an affluent and exuberant harvest for body, mind, and the communities we serve.

According to the Davis Odd Fellows Handbook (or Pledge Book) of Davis Lodge #169 (updated June 2010), “The Scythe reminds us that as the grass falls before the mower’s scythe, so we all fall before the touch of time.”

What of the skull and cross-bones? This symbol seems fairly straight-forward enough, in that it symbolizes death, but let’s look at what the American Folk Art Museum has to say about it.

There, a placard next to a plaque depicting an Odd Fellows skull and cross-bones symbol reads,

“The skull and crossed femurs, or thighbones, is an image that dates to antiquity and functioned as a memento mori, a reminder that everything that lives must die. The symbol was used by several fraternal groups as a sober reminder of the importance of leading a moral life. It was also part of the Odd Fellows ritual of rebirth. As one Odd Fellows monitor noted, it was the symbol “perhaps…used most frequently, in both sacred and profane mysteries, as a means of impressing the mind with a realizing sense of the seriousness of the end of life.” One regalia catalog listed plaques similar to this one as “emblems to hang in lodge room” that were sold as one piece in a set of sixteen or eighteen emblems.

“The skull and crossbones appears frequently in Masonic contexts as well. It serves as a focal point in a “chamber of reflection,” an anteroom outfitted with arcane symbols intended to encourage deep self-contemplation before a candidate begins his degree.”

The Davis Handbook has this to say of the skull and cross-bones: “The Skull and Crossbones remind us of mortality and warn us to so conduct ourselves on earth that Heaven may be our reward hereafter.” (I personally wasn’t happy with the necessary inclusion of an Abrahamic afterlife, being a Thelemite, but I chalked this up to a particularity of this lodge and its specific handbook, not necessarily the I.O.O.F. or Odd Fellowship as a whole.)

Lastly we have the open and watchful eye of God. Now, as I said before, it was only stated to me that to be an Odd Fellow one needed to be a supreme being. One did not need to assent to the idea that that being was necessarily conscious: however, the eye being open may suggest a kind of consciousness, albeit not necessarily.

The Davis Handbook puts it this way:

“The All-Seeing Eye represents the eternal presence of the eye of God upon all of us, night and day.”

This sounds quite a bit like the Abrahamic God, the deity of Yahweh/Jehovah who judges sin. (And, of course, sin simply does not exist in the Thelemic view, nor is there a being who judges it.)

Writing in Heart in Hand, Odd Fellow Scott Moye goes into the particulars behind the symbolism of the open eye of God in Odd Fellowship:

“In older various forms of ancient symbolism, we often see a symbol showing one eye open and one eye closed. The closed eye of course refers to the subjective internal world of our mind. The open eye refers to the objective external world our mind is engaging. Odd Fellows uses (sic) only the open eye, which in ancient symbolism refers to the objective world.

“So, the open eye does not only represent the All Seeing Eye of the Great Architect. It also shows us that our work–the work of “being Odd” is in the objective world. The world where, with open eyes, we see the impoverished, the helpless, the distressed. The open eye encourages us to look out upon the objective world and provide the help that we can provide.”

Anyway, these were the mainstay symbols that I noticed and recall from my initiation, my taking of the White degree. What this imparted to me was this: God watches us all; all actions, thoughts, feelings, and phenomena have consequences; all life ends and all things are impermanent (very similar to the Buddhist mark of anicca); and in the midst of all this we ought to embrace a life of friendship, love, and truth, bound as one.

The main website of the grand lodge of the I.O.O.F. in Texas states this about the importance and meaning of the initiatory (White/0°) degree:

“The initiatory degree is required in order to attend an Odd Fellows meeting. With the initiatory degree you are a full fledged voting member of the lodge and able to participate in business meetings. In the initiatory degree you will witness a representation of our mortal existence, which begs the question; “How will I spend my life?” In our modern fast paced society there are many things that compete for our attention. As Odd Fellows we are bound by sacred obligations to extend the hand of fellowship as we are commanded to: visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan. In short you will commit, as an enlightened member of our order, to do your part to build a better world.”

How will I spend my life? I ask myself this, or something akin to it all the time, as a Thelemite. “What is my true will?” is similar enough, and that is the imperative question for every Thelemite. Either way, one is asking, essentially, what one is really to do, now that one is here, alive, on this planet.

And surely death, those skull and cross-bones, make the greatest impression when addressing this question during the initiatory degree ritual. Because not only do you encounter the symbol on a banner, you encounter that “symbol,” after another manner, in much more visceral and real way, right in front of your face.

I won’t go into further details. (For the sake of secrecy, of course.)


CONFLICTS

Taking my White degree did make an impression on me. It didn’t exactly reveal anything to me I had never considered before, but it reminded me of things I felt were important, though a few (such as the consciousness and watchfulness of God) I either disagree with or at times question.

I was happy with my decision for a few weeks. However, I soon became a bit conflicted.

I quickly began considering my inclusion in the Odd Fellows from the standpoint of both my Thelema and my anarchism (if you’d like to know, I happen to not have a lot of love for the state or capitalism), and I generally found that, for myself—that is, from the point of view of my personal interpretation of Thelema and anarchism—both made me question Odd Fellowship, at least as presented to me on the various Odd Fellows websites and from other sources on the topic.

The way Odd Fellowship had been presented to me at my local lodge, as simply a society centered around friendship, love, and truth, whose members professed the existence of a supreme being (though without qualification) and nothing beyond that simply didn’t hold up to the research I was doing into Odd Fellowship elsewhere. It was becoming more and more nuanced as I was reading more and more about it, and particularly more dogmatic and Christian in its views, to my understanding.

So, I respectfully left my lodge in search of other things.

Below I’ll explain why I feel like Thelema (and to another extent anarchism) may clash with Odd Fellowship in certain ways:


First of all, let’s look at where the very basics of Odd Fellowship—friendship, love, and truth—come in the way of Thelema as I interpret it. In principle they don’t, but by elaboration from various sources they certainly may.

FRIENDSHIP

Now the principle of friendship is one that is natural to me. I won’t appeal to any doctrine of spiritual principle for why it is important. It just is. I’ve always tried to be a friendly person, as much of a hermit as I may be these days. As the courts in this country (I’m American) are ideally supposed to treat people as innocent until proven guilty, I try, on days I’m feeling less cynical at the very least, to treat people as friends until proven otherwise. Wouldn’t the world generally be better if we all approached one another in such a manner?

The page What’s an Odd Fellow on the official I.O.O.F. website has this to say about Odd Fellows and friendship:

“An Odd Fellow is an advocate of FRIENDSHIP and never looks at people with prejudiced eyes or bases his judgment on outward appearances. He supports the idea that all people irrespective of creed, race, color, nationality, social status, sex, rank and station are brothers and sisters. He does not take an undue advantage of his power or the weaknesses of those around him. He is gentle in behavior and never inflicts pain. He avoids impurity in thoughts and unchaste conduct. He also knows that he should respect himself by following temperance in his desires and fighting against vice of every form, chastity of person, and purity in heart and mind.”

Some comments on this paragraph:

A Thelemite generally regards all human beings as co-supreme Gods like he is, or perceives himself to be, and so brothers and sisters upon earth partaking in the same divinity which is manifestly one with nature. However, to assume that it is never necessary to inflict pain or come into conflict with someone else ignores the plain fact that the Thelemite is also called to defy (or in extreme cases even destroy) those who would thwart his liberty and the liberties of others, as per Liber OZ. (Or Liber LXXVII.) In my view, the confident Thelemite believes firmly sic semper tyrannis. He is not a pacifist, as Ra-Hoor-Khuit, to whom he pledges his allegiance, is a force of war and vengeance against all that which thwarts the (true) will. That is not to say, however, that violence is the immediate answer to a given conflict, but that it may sometimes certainly be so.

So, the Odd Fellow avoids impurity in thoughts and unchaste conduct? (According to their official website it would appear to be so.) This is plainly incompatible with the fact that, as per Liber OZ, which is basically the foundation of Thelemic ethics, “man has the right to think what he will,” and to “love as he will,” so that one may “take your fill of love as ye will, when, where, and with whom ye will.”

The Thelemite also does not follow temperance unless it is his will to do so, though the cleverness and intelligence of a Thelemite may indicate to him when and how he is being ruled by his passions, rather than the other way around. If it is the case that his passions are ruling him rather than him ruling them, then it is natural that he is actively thwarting his own will, and thus necessarily must exercise temperance if the true will is to shine through. This, of course is an if, however, not a must, and the language exercised on the official I.O.O.F. page seemed to imply a certain degree of “thou shalt.” (The sole dogma of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”)

Thelemites do not fight against vice, unless by vice we mean that which thwarts true will. Note what it states plainly in Liber AL (II:52):

“There is a veil: that veil is black. It is the veil of the modest woman; it is the veil of sorrow, & the pall of death: this is none of me. Tear down that lying spectre of the centuries: veil not your vices in virtuous words: these vices are my service; ye do well, & I will reward you here and hereafter.”

Vice, lust, carnal pleasure and joy are likewise the pleasures of Godhead in Thelema. It is God’s, or the universe’s, joy to see our joy and rapture upon the earth. As we are microcosms of the universe, which is the macrocosm, when we experience joy, so does the universe, and therefore God.

Let me be clear: I hadn’t read this extract from the I.O.O.F. website before taking my initiatory degree. If I had, I may have had second thoughts about joining the Odd Fellows. That being said, friendship as a quality is not in opposition to Thelema, and Thelema may even encourage it, so long as that friendship aligns with will.

LOVE

Consider the second link the chain of the Odd Fellows. Love, like friendship, is important. Very important. Loves of all kind swells in my heart: and I’ve known romantic love, the love of friends, of parents, of acquaintances—even spiritual love.

O.T.O. is very much based upon love. In fact the order operates in the love of the spirit of universal brotherhood, but moreover “love under will,” which is part of the Law of Thelema. (Its paramount doctrine.) Will is essential in and to Thelema, of course, but so is love, particularly divine love (agape), which, it should be mentioned, is not mere sentimentality, but rather union, as implied by the term yoga. (According to Crowley.) This love is understood to be directed by the divine will, yet at the same time synonymous with will.

The I.O.O.F. website has this to say about the love of an Odd Fellow:

“An Odd Fellow is an enactor of LOVE in a way that he feels jointly responsible for his fellowmen and prepared to give attention and help wherever and whenever help is needed. He is a person who treats others, especially women and children, with dignity and respect. He knows the application of sympathy, sincerity, unselfishness, and generosity. He accepts the fact that nothing is perfect but believes that he has an obligation to contribute in making the world a better place to live.”

This is all well and good. There is nothing in Thelema that turns aside our compassion, but rather it is noted by Liber AL that “compassion is the vice of kings.” This can be interpreted in different ways—one way it is interpreted is that, vices being the “service” of Godhead, and “kings” being the enlightened of society, compassion is good and naturally flows from one who is pursuing or has accomplished their true will. Another, more cynical interpretation is that compassion is the last of the ugly virtues—the “good” of the good we are to be saved from, as per the Mass of the Phoenix—if we are to be delivered into true liberty. I chose to believe that compassion is a good thing.

I do not believe that women deserve more attention or help than men by dint of their sex. Woman is God just as man is, and to pity her is to look down upon her as lowlier than the God she is.

As Crowley wrote in his essay “Duty”: “Pity, sympathy and like emotions are fundamentally insults to the Godhead of the person exciting them, and therefore also to your own. The distress of another may be relieved; but always with the positive and noble idea of making manifest the perfection of the Universe. Pity is the source of every mean, ignoble, cowardly vice; and the essential blasphemy against Truth.”

There is nothing written in any Thelemic text which condemns dignity or respect, and, as far as I know, there is nothing in particular written about how one ought to treat children aside from Crowley’s recommendations to the O.T.O. as to how to care for families and kids, wherein it is stated that children should be fostered by the order to grow in freedom to explore their own natures and capacities.

Sympathy, like pity, is not actually empathy, which is the kind of feeling with which a supreme being regards another supremacy.

Sincerity can be addressed alongside truth, below.

Unselfishness is not inherently harmful, but one should never be unselfish at the expense of one’s true will. Of course, it may be one’s true will to be unselfish and helpful, as if, for instance, it is one’s true will (or part of it) to be an EMT or to feed the homeless.

Generosity is not required of the Thelemite, but it is certainly a boon to one who participates in O.T.O. A brother or sister of the order may show their love for their brethren through generosity, of course.

It may be wise to remember what we read in Crowley’s Liber Librae:

“Do good unto others for its own sake, not for reward, not for gratitude from them, not for sympathy. If thou art generous, thou wilt not long for thine ears to be tickled by expressions of gratitude.”

TRUTH

Truth is trickier. It is clear that Odd Fellowship values truth and honesty above most things, but for the Thelemite, while truth and integrity is generally valuable, it is not always necessary, at least I would say. (Granted, there are about a thousand interpretations of Thelema for every hundred Thelemites, so don’t let me opinion on this matter (or really any matter) be the final word.)

The only sin is restriction, according to Liber AL, and beyond this Crowley once stated (In his Book 4) that, “The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and willfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.”

Yet it is also the case that certain high adepts have the ability, and perhaps sometimes even the responsibility, to utilize falsehood to their advantage or for the “greater good”.

Crowley wrote in The Book of Lies: “The Master (in technical language, the Magus) does not concern himself with facts; he does not care whether a thing is true or not: he uses truth and falsehood indiscriminately, to serve his ends.”

The official I.O.O.F. website has this to state of the Odd Fellow and truth:

“An Odd Fellow is a pursuer of TRUTH and adheres to equality, justice and righteousness. He sees searching for truth as searching for clarity in the sense of his life. Every time a small piece of truth is found, he will try to use it only in ways where he will be able to be true to himself and his fellowmen. Oftentimes, he thinks before he acts and speaks. He knows that, as a human being, it is a fact that he can think. He gives account to himself and knows that before he starts doing something, he can make the choice what to do and can think it over and consider whether the choice was the right one. He believes that making good and well-considered choices is called “behaving in a responsible way”.”

This account seems to fit best with the Thelemic view, albeit for the fact that as Thelemites we do not necessarily discount lying as a necessity at times and a simple indulgence (remember that we do not believe in sin) at others. This is also not to discount the fact that exaggeration can be beneficial in a number of instances.

MY THELEMA AND OTHER I.O.O.F. TENETS AND PRACTICES

The Official I.O.O.F. page states that the following are additional teachings Odd Fellowship provides its members:

  • Wise and serious truths and opens up before its members opportunities for useful service.
  • Belief in a Supreme Being, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe.
  • The lesson of fraternity, that all are of one family and therefore brethren.
  • The importance of the principle of Friendship, Love and Truth.
  • The privilege and duty of individual sympathy, mutual assistance and every-day service to ones (sic) fellows.
  • That humanity was intended to be one harmonious structure.
  • That each individual is a unit in that God-made temple.
  • Its members how to stand on their own feet, yet walk in step with their neighbors.
  • The difference between right and wrong.
  • That it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Personally, not all of this agrees with my interpretation of Thelema. I do not believe that right and wrong can be delineated aside from the notion of true will—whether one is to pursue one’s own or allow others to pursue theirs’, one the one hand, or restrict that freedom, on the other. I do not believe that it is always more blessed to give than to receive, at there are certainly those who don’t deserve a dime (or anything else) from me. The other tenets I either agree, disagree, or half-agree with.

In my few times in the lodge room of my local lodge, we recited the Lord’s Prayer, which I found curious given that I.O.O.F. states that it is “non-political and non-sectarian” and that people regardless of race, religion, creed, etc. can join. The Bible was also present and used during our lodge meeting, and I discovered these were regular practices throughout I.O.O.F. lodges.

Nevertheless, it is often well-understood that 10 Thelemites can give you 100 different interpretations of Thelema, as I essentially stated before, and so it would be presumptuous to say that a Thelemite could never be an Odd Fellow, or at least a member of the I.O.O.F. as it exists today.


ODD FELLOWSHIP AND MY ANARCHISM

I consider myself an anarchist. I feel the state, and therefore the government and the structures it begets, are illegitimate; that hierarchies are largely unjustified; and that capitalism is an unjustified hierarchy. My anarchism is also bolstered by my Thelema: capitalism and the state come in the way of my expression of my true will.

On the official I.O.O.F. website’s How to Join page, it states that “Any person of good character, of any race, gender, nationality and social status, who is loyal to their country and believes in a Supreme Being, is eligible for membership.”

First of all, the notion of what constitutes “good character” is fairly subjective, and secondly (and most importantly here), being loyal to one’s country is not something anarchists are exactly known for.

Now, I am loyal to the people who live in my country. In that sense I am loyal to my country: I am loyal, or rather give the benefit of the doubt, i.e. loyalty until I’m eventually stabbed in the back (if that so happens), to the people who live in my country, albeit also worldwide.

I am not loyal to the state, or the government, and I do not agree with its laws, which I find arbitrary and imposed against the liberty of free people everywhere.

Surprisingly, the issue of loyalty to my country did not come up when I joined Good Shepherd Lodge. I feel they may have missed a few questions here or there.

Additionally, an image macro on the aforementioned website states that the Odd Fellow is “faithful” to his country. This signals nothing little more than to me, as nations themselves are arbitrarily carved up geopolitical power-grabs by people far richer and more powerful than you or I will ever be. (Certainly the issue of culture comes up when considering borders, but why must the fact that one culture is endemic to one place mean that it can never exist in another?)

I discovered recently that Odd Fellows conduct an annual “pilgrimage” to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., presumably to pay their respects to a military which has largely fought to further the interests of bourgeois institutions and killed countless people in the process.

Lastly, during lodge meetings American I.O.O.F. members (myself included during the brief time I was involved) recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag, which is wholly anathema to the fact that that flag is, to me, a symbol of authoritarianism.

Despite all this, I will give I.O.O.F. a bit of a pass in that there must be some understanding of the context in which its patriotism operates: the need for declared allegiance to one’s country is essentially a safeguard that was put in place to ensure that members of the order would not use their power, prestige, or status within the I.O.O.F. to break laws or harm the government, which of course would have landed the order in serious trouble.

As reddit user jthanson (a past grand master of an I.O.O.F. grand lodge) explained in response to me on an I.O.O.F. subreddit thread I started asking about how I could be an anarchist and at the same time and Odd Fellow, given the order’s patriotism:

“It’s great that you’re thinking about this. It means you take your obligations as an Odd Fellow seriously and that the Order is meaningful to you. I think having some context for what we do in our ritual will help you to understand your relationship to Odd Fellowship better.

“The reason for requiring members to be loyal to their country comes from the 1950s. There was a lot of fear around Communism and specifically around using the secrecy of lodge meetings and activities for seditious activities. To counter that, the organization changed the “Secret Work” to the “Unwritten Work.” We also adopted the requirement that members be loyal to their country. What that means is that no member would ever use the secrecy of Odd Fellowship to do anything against the government. One of the reasons the Odd Fellows still exist in Cuba is because our lodges were apolitical and didn’t threaten the progress of the revolution.

“In the context of Odd Fellowship, being “loyal to one’s country” doesn’t mean that you’re going to necessarily support this government. It just means you’re not going to do anything under cover of lodge secrecy to attack or destabilize the government. In fact, I think that Odd Fellowship fits well with a libertarian philosophy because the idea of Odd Fellowship is that members take care of each other and the wider community at large without need for government. Odd Fellowship grew from the tradition of workers providing mutual aid during the time when governments did not provide any services to citizens.

“Ultimately you’ll have to decide what’s going to be best for you. Based on the fact that you’ve thought very hard about the meaning of what you’re doing in Odd Fellowship, I think you will be a great member. I encourage you to continue your membership and learn more and more about Odd Fellowship. Take the Three Degrees; join an Encampment and take the Encampment Degrees. Continue your journey in Odd Fellowship and work hard in your lodge.”

To clarify, in the I.O.O.F. an Encampment is a higher organization than a base lodge (but not with the greater privileges, jurisdiction, and responsibilities that a grand lodge holds) in that it confers several higher degrees than a regular lodge, which can only confer the four primary degrees.


I have no problems with the I.O.O.F. or Odd Fellowship in and of themselves. In fact, today I find much of their work admirable. On the whole, if people find Odd Fellowship and the I.O.O.F. paths to bettering themselves and the lives of those around them, that’s great. However, for a certain amount of time, maybe some several years, I found the doctrines of Odd Fellowship—namely the nationalism, moralism, and Abrahamism—kept it from working for me as an anarchist and a Thelemite.

Yet, somehow, as much cognitive dissonance as I suffered, and to some degree continue to suffer from, I came back to my local lodge recently and began working with them again. I re-joined, and actually received my official I.O.O.F. membership card. In fact, I’m looking to take the other three lodge degrees.

How do I justify this, after everything I explained about myself, above?

Well, for one, despite what I believe, I really do want to just sweep the extraneous ideals peddled by the I.O.O.F. aside and get to work helping people: I want to have an outlet to do good for others, and the I.O.O.F. seems like the perfect place for that kind of work.

Secondly, I admittedly, and unashamedly, cherry-pick: just as I do not assent to every single “doctrine” of Thelema—not everything Crowley said or wrote is written in stone, and much of what he said I simply disagree with or find unbelievable—I also understand that surely I do not need to assent to every single doctrine promulgated by the I.O.O.F. in its published material or on its websites in order to do good work for others and express the ideals of friendship, love, and truth. I do not need to believe that God is actually watching me in order to be loving, and I do not need to be loyal to the state to be a friend to others.

Perhaps this makes me a renegade Odd Fellow. Yes, I go through the motions in the lodge: I say the pledge, I declare my beliefs, but in my heart I know what it is I assent to and I know that the real prize of Odd Fellowship has, so far, been the work of making the world a better place despite the tid bit doctrines of the order which I do not wholeheartedly agree with.

And as for the ritual: all in all, I found my initiatory experience meaningful and beautiful in its own way, and a great reminder of the ever salient facts of death, impermanence, and focusing on what is valuable in our fleeting lives. Those reminders impressed upon my mind greater facts than the need to prop up the state, or convince myself that somehow God has an Abrahamic flavor. Those reminders convince me to do good for others simply because it pleases me to do so, to embody friendship, truth, and love while not being a pedant on what I feel to be the divisive and sectarian topics of God and country.

LOGOS IX: “What is Thelema? (Redux)” (Article Repost)

THIS ENTRY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

A unicursal hexagram (perhaps the best-known symbol of Thelema) with a serpent, a powerfully magical symbol in its own right, in the foreground.

A little while ago I wrote and published a followup (or, rather, a re-do) article to my Medium article “What is Thelema?“, “What is Thelema? (Redux).” I’m featuring a link to it here, as well as the text of the article below, for your consumption.

This re-do, or redux, article attempts to define and explore Thelema without presenting the issues that I feel exist in the older article.

Enjoy.


I wrote an article a while back exploring the nature of Thelema, the spiritual and philosophical system founded or received by Aleister Crowley in 1904. I realize now, looking back on my work, that it wasn’t written to my satisfaction, and here I’d like to present a new essay attempting to articulate the system without quite so many tangents and parentheses, and with certain corrections made.

. . .

Thelema (in Koine Greek θέλημα (thelema): “will [of God]”; pronounced “thuh-LEE-muh” or “thuh-LAY-muh”; derived from the Greek verb θέλω (thélō): “to will, wish, want, or purpose”) is a system of spiritual development founded or received by British writer and occultist Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) in 1904. It is most often practiced as a kind of religion or mystical-spiritual complex— complete with (largely according to the inclination of the practitioner) rituals, deities, scriptures, attendant organizations that provide services and liturgy, and communities of like-minded adherents — although it is doctrinally-flexible enough that it can also be lived or practiced as a (ostensibly secular) philosophy or “way of life.”

A well-known quote by Thelemite and occultist Jake-Stratton Kent goes, “There is religion in Thelema for those that require it. There is also freedom from religion in Thelema, for those that require it.” This statement affirms that Thelema can be interpreted by different individuals in different ways.

The term “thelema” comes from the Greek thélō, θέλω, a lesser-used term for “will” alongside the more common phrase boule (βουλή); thélō was used by Homer to mean both general will and sexual desire; and the earliest use of the word “thelema” occurs in the 5th century B.C.E., the term meaning either general will, divine will, or the will to sex. In both the Old and the New Testament “thelema” is generally used to indicate the will of God, albeit in somewhat different senses between the two collections of scripture.

Followers of Thelema are termed Thelemites (singular: Thelemite), and phenomena associated with or within the scope of Thelema are termed Thelemic. Though there are both formal group, and solo or private, rituals of initiation into the “current” of Thelema, it can be adopted and practiced by anyone at any time, and being arguably syncretic in its own way, one may be a Thelemite and at once — at least to some degree — a Buddhist, Gnostic, traditional Hermeticist, Hindu, Neoplatonist, Neopythagorean, pagan (including Wiccan), Rosicrucian, Satanist, Setian, spiritual but not religious, Taoist, or irreligious, or some combination thereof, among other possible spiritual, ideological, or religious expressions.

But where did such a system begin?

Aleister Crowley (born Edward Alexander Crowley; 1875–1947), an English ceremonial magician and mystic, stated that he received a text by way of dictation known as Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law, over the course of three days, from April 8 to 10 in 1904 during a honeymoon stay with his wife, Rose Edith Kelly, in Cairo, Egypt. Crowley alleged this book was dictated to him by an entity named Aiwass (also stylized Aiwaz), “the minister of Hoor-pa-kraat,” whom he designated his Holy Guardian Angel. (HGA.)

To digress, “Holy Guardian Angel” is an esoteric term—one that did not originate with Crowley, and may actually come from the Zoroastrian tradition — that Crowley used for either a discreet aspect of the personality, a kind of personal god or “inner” or “truer” self which one’s natural ego is deeply connected with yet normally unaware of, or some analogous concept, on one hand; or a discarnate and separate entity, or separate yet intimate aspect of the personality or one’s fullness of being, on the other. Crowley described the Angel as being analogous to the Tao and Hua of Taoism; the Silent Watcher, Great Master, or Higher Self of Theosophy; Vishnu in the Bhagavad-Gita; the neshamah of the Qabalah; the Great Person of the I Ching; the Higher Genius of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HoGD); the augeoides (divine nature or “body of light”) of Iamblichus; the Atman of Hinduism; the daemon of the ancient Greeks; and other such concepts. The specific phrase “Holy Guardian Angel” was used by Abraham of Worms, a character either real or fictional mentioned in the grimoire (book of magick) The Book of Abramelin, who used the term to indicate an entity which is intimately connected to one’s spiritual makeup or psyche, or the spiritual nature of the one who invokes the being. It was from this source that Crowley borrowed the term.

The concept of the Holy Guardian Angel will remain important for the purposes of this essay, and I will return to it later on.

To return to Liber AL:

On March 16, 1904 Crowley performed a ceremony known as the Bornless Ritual in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza, in order to impress his new wife during their overnight stay there in Cairo. Despite the fact that his attempt at evoking spirits to visible manifestation apparently didn’t work — Rose was unable to see anything — she entered a trance and repeated the phrase, “They’re waiting for you!” to Crowley.

Crowley initially disregarded this event, but went on, on the 18th, to invoke the Egyptian deity Thoth (also known as Tahuti) — invocation is a magical practice whereby the magician calls upon a being or force to enter them, or attempts to identify with that being or force — and afterwards Rose told him that Horus was the god waiting for him.

Crowley tested whether Rose was being genuine or was simply hysterical or mad by asking her questions about Horus, knowing she knew nothing about the deity prior. She supposedly answered all of his questions correctly.

The couple then went to the Bulaq Museum near downtown Cairo, where Rose pointed out a funerary stele to Crowley. It depicted a priest of the war god Montu, a winged solar disk representing Horus of Behdet, Ra-Horakhty, and the goddess Nut bent over these. The priest, to whom the stele was dedicated, was known as Ankh-af-na-khonsu (transliterated more properly as Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu i, and sometimes written as Ankh-f-n-khonsu), and it was the persona of this priest whom Crowley would take on as the writer of The Book of the Law when later, in April, he would pen it. (Crowley also would later claim that he was the reincarnation of Ankh-af-na-khonsu.)

On March 20 Crowley invoked Horus “with great success.” Rose then told him that the individual who gave her the information she had about Horus was not Horus himself, but a being named Aiwass.

On April 7 Rose gave Crowley instructions to enter “the temple” (presumably some part of the apartment they were staying in in Cairo) and write down what he heard from noon to 1:00 p.m.

Aiwass dictated three chapters of Liber AL to Crowley, one for each day he was writing, each chapter a message from one of three deities, beings whom Crowley would later describe as a “literary convenience.” (There are certainly atheist Thelemites, and far be it from me to decide what the nature of these deities, if any deities, really is. Suffice it to say a Thelemite may view these deities, and deities in general, as literal beings, archetypes or symbols of cosmic forces or psychological or spiritual processes, or really any other thing, or some combination thereof. It’s not up to me what others believe.) These beings are Nuit (also Nuith or Nu, based upon the sky goddess Nut), the “Queen of Infinite Space,” Hadit (also Had, based upon the solar manifestation of the god Horus of Behdet (Edfu), also translated Hor-Bhdt and Heru-Behdeti, known as Haidith to the Greeks), “the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star,” and Ra-Hoor-Khuit (also Ra-Hoor, based upon the composite deity Ra-Horakhty), the “child” of Nuit and Hadit who represents the active and energetic aspect of Horus, “the Crowned and Conquering Child.”

The central tenet of these deities’ teachings is what can be described as the sole dogma, though not necessarily the only doctrine, of Thelema — the Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” a phrase which is followed up by the additional tenet, “Love is the law, love under will.”

As explained in Crowley’s epistle “The Message of the Master Therion” (one of Crowley’s magical or spiritual names was the Master Therion, after the fuller name TO MEGA THERION [666] (in Greek Τὸ Μέγα Θηρίον) or The Beast [666] or simply 666), will (“Thelema”), which is central to the Law, is not mere whim. It is not simply one’s base desires, or the inclinations of the ego, but rather the will of individual as it aligns with the motion and inertia, or “will,” of the cosmos. The theory generally goes that after one has made oneself a perfect vessel for the indwelling of the light of the HGA and allowed it to commune with one’s mind — a process known as Knowledge and Conversation (K&C) — the Angel will then lead one to the knowledge of one’s true, or pure, will, one’s will as it exists in harmony with all things.

In his essay Crowley goes on to identify this will with the state of the Buddhist “Nirvana, only dynamic instead of static,” a kind of inner self, but in motion.

Crowley states, “Thou must (1) Find out what is thy Will. (2) Do that Will with (a) one-pointedness, (b) detachment, (c) peace.

“Then, and then only, art thou in harmony with the Movement of Things, thy will part of, and therefore equal to, the Will of God. And since the will is but the dynamic aspect of the self, and since two different selves could not possess identical wills; then, if thy will be God’s will, Thou art That.”

“There is no Law beyond Do what thou wilt,” states Liber AL. Additionally, we read in the book, “Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that and no other shall say nay. For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”

What makes this “pure will” perfect?

If we look back at “The Message of the Master Therion,” we see that Crowley’s theory is one of mutual harmony: if everyone did their unique and individual will, and respected the wills of others — a necessity of “love under will” — there would be no, or at least rare, clashing.

Crowley wrote that one may be ignorant of one’s true will, and that in such a case the universe itself, or the circumstances surrounding the individual, would naturally respond by causing disruption.

“Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment which is natural and necessary for each,” he wrote in his posthumous publication Magick Without Tears. “Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly.” In the same book he noted, “A man whose conscious will is at odds with his True Will is wasting his strength. He cannot hope to influence his environment efficiently.”

He also claimed that the true will so precisely reflects what one should be doing in one’s life, in that one acts in accordance with the nature of the cosmos, that if one is following it, one cannot do anything wrong, or cause an error: “Every man has a right to fulfill his own will without being afraid that it may interfere with that of others; for if he is in his proper path, it is the fault of others if they interfere with him.”

Discovering and fulfilling one’s true, or pure, will, is known to Thelemites as the Great Work, after the great work or magnum opus of alchemy, and represents enlightenment, illumination, or gnosis in Thelema.

For Thelemites, the Law of Thelema is universal in its application: Crowley wrote that its “scope is so vast that it is impossible even to hint at the universality of its application”. Indeed, Thelema is so broad it may be applied to all forms of philosophy, including ethics, metaphysics, politics, and even aesthetics. On a individual basis, which is personal and spiritual, however, the Law calls on a person to — as Crowley was quick to clarify — perform their true will, which is essentially that course of life best aligned with one’s greatest potential and the conditions of one’s existence, and this is the microcosmic or human-centered aspect of will. Yet will in some sense, according to Thelema, suffuses the cosmos, and in its own way directs the course of all things: “‘Do what thou wilt’ is to bid Stars to shine, Vines to bear grapes, Water to seek its level,’ Crowley wrote in his Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4;man is the only being in Nature that has striven to set himself at odds with himself…”

Coming to know, and gathering the strength to dare, to perform one’s true will, to fulfill the Law of Thelema, is invariably difficult. And this may be why we need to delve deeply into ourselves, the deeply hidden psychological and spiritual aspects of ourselves, in order to unearth it. This process is that of K&C of the HGA.

The HGA is said to descend from the same supernal state of being or mind that was begotten by, and/or is inhabited by, the presence of the force or forces represented by the three divinities of The Book of the Law.

The deities of Liber AL are, at least in one sense (if not wholly), archetypes and symbols of metaphysical, natural, mystical, spiritual, and/or psychological principles or processes, as I indicated before:

Nuit, sometimes known as “Our Lady of the Stars” or the “Lady of the Starry Heaven,” represents infinite space, “and the infinite stars thereof,” matter, the Hermetic All (everything), infinity generally, being and to-be, and the Absolute (or absolute or fundamental reality) in a philosophical sense, generally. She is all potential—all potential for both being and experience. She is all that is, was, will be, can be, will not be, and cannot be, together as a totality. Her circumference is everywhere and center (Hadit) is nowhere.

Hadit is called “the Great God, the lord of the sky,” and represents the infinitesimal point-event at any particular point within the “body of Nuit” (the universe, multiverse, or totality of existence), motion, energy, going and to-go, the ultimate and infinitesimal and core self, and the individual and the individual’s uniqueness and essence. He can be viewed as symbolic of or the same as the spermatozoon or ovum, kundalini, and the Holy Spirit. He has been called “the Fire of Desire at the Heart of Matter (Nuit).” He is the truest self that, by spiritual aspiration, dissolves in divine union with Nuit. The union of the infinitesimally small Hadit and infinitely great Nuit results in samadhi, or the union of subject and object in spiritual consciousness.

In his commentaries on Liber AL, Crowley wrote, “Nuit is All that which exists, and the condition of that existence. Hadit is the Principle which causes modifications in this Being. This explains how one may call Nuit Matter, and Hadit Motion.” He also noted, “It should be evident that Nuit obtains the satisfaction of Her Nature when the parts of Her Body fulfill their own Nature. The sacrament of life is not only so from the point of view of the celebrants, but from that of the divinity invoked.”

Ra-Hoor-Khuit (meaning “Ra [who is] Horus on the horizon”) is a conflation of Ra and Horus, and the principle and force of the Aeon of Horus. He may also be representative of the HGA, the khabs — according to Thelemic doctrine the “star” of an individual that encircles Hadit and a deep, yet not the deepest, aspect of self (this point is admittedly debatable, as the “star” of Thelemic parlance is often viewed as the inherent or “true self,” making it the actual essence from a certain point of view) — solar force or a solar archetype, and assertive action in attempting to discover and enact one’s true will. Ra-Hoor-Khuit represents Horus as a conquering solar force. Being the child of Nuit and Hadit, he is representative of their union, and so samadhi and enlightenment. He may also be symbolic of the manifestation of substance or being generally, as Crowley wrote that it is the interaction of the dual principles of the infinite circumference of Nuit and the infinitesimal centrality of Hadit that gives rise to the manifest universe.

Outside Liber AL (namely in spiritual works of various classes Crowley termed libri, or [spiritual] books) Crowley described other deities endemic to the Thelemic pantheon:

Ra-Hoor-Khuit is the active aspect of the composite deity Heru-ra-ha (“Horus-Sun-flesh”), or that which brings together opposites and in doing so represents non-duality.

The passive aspect of Heru-ra-ha is Hoor-pa-Kraat (also Hoor-paar-kraat or Hoor-paar-Kraat), or Harpocrates, a Greek child deity originally representing silence, and in Thelema also a symbol of stillness and initiation. As Ra-Hoor is solar and phallic, Hoor-pa-Kraat is arguably lunar and yonic.

Babalon, whose name comes from the biblical Whore of Babylon, is mother-like deity known as the “Scarlet Woman,” “Mother of Abominations,” and “Great Mother.” She is considered a “sacred whore,” and she represents liberated and free sexuality, fertility, the Earth or even universe as a mother-like figure, and, perhaps most metaphysically, the “female” aspect of the creative principle which gives rise to consciousness and/or the cosmos according to the Qabalah. (Many Thelemites rely on the Hermetic Qabalah, an esoteric interpretation of the Jewish mystical system of Kabbalah, in order to gain insight or advance themselves spiritually.) She is identified with the sephira (sphere or circle on the Qabalistic diagram known as the Tree of Life — a pictorial representation of the process of creation and one’s ability to return to the divine) of Binah on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the sphere which receives and thereby molds the creative energy expressed by its counterpart — Babalon’s consort — Chaos.

Chaos is the “Father of Life,” identified with the sephira of Chokmah on the Tree of Life, and he represents the pure creative energy, force, or impulse of nature or the divine in its production of the cosmos and/or consciousness. As Babalon is the receptive mother of all things, Chaos, her consort, is the expressive father of all things.

Babalon is depicted riding a wild beast known as Therion. This deity is the “Great Beast” referenced in the biblical Book of Revelations, and represents the carnal and wild nature of human beings, their impulse to revel in life with lust and pleasure.

Baphomet is referenced and praised in the Gnostic Mass. (A ceremony conducted by the Thelemic organization Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. (EGC.)) He is, according to Crowley, “the hieroglyph of arcane perfection,” and may represent the union of opposites as the result of the combination of opposing forces, as well as the perfect balancing and harmonization of forces in the microcosm that is one’s individual being. He is sometimes thought of as the arcane child of Chaos and Babalon, and has in certain instances been attributed to the path of Teth (paths exist between the sephiroth on the Tree of Life) on the Tree of Life.

Aiwass may not be a deity, per se, but he is identified as the “minister of Hoor-pa-kraat” who delivered The Book of the Law to Crowley. Crowley identified him as his own HGA, and at other times spoke of him more as a distinct, autonomous, and separate entity. (Whether one’s HGA is an aspect of oneself, a separate being, or somehow both is up for debate.)

Choronzon is considered a deity by some, a spirit by some, a psycho-spiritual dilemma by others, and still the mundane ego in a state of violent reaction by others. Choronzon serves to lead one away from the path of attaining spiritual awareness, and is a particularly formidable and dangerous obstacle when an aspirant attempts to cross the Abyss, a psycho-spiritual gulf between the worlds of phenomena and noumena, between self and non-self. (In crossing the Abyss the aspirant is expected to shed their ego, but Choronzon may lead one into madness or mystical egomania instead.)

Belief in these entities or forces, whether as literal beings or things or as symbols or representations of things more subtle, psychological, or abstract, has never been posed as necessary for the would-be Thelemite. However, it’s probably safe to say that most Thelemites at very least have some conception of the three speakers of the Book of the Law, whether as forces, entities, or principles.

This brings us to an interesting question: what, in fact, defines or makes a Thelemite? What must one necessarily believe in order to be a Thelemite? What must one do?

The fact is there is no established Thelemic orthodoxy (standard belief or set of beliefs) or orthopraxy (standard practice or set of practices). In fact, if we go by the account of Crowley that past “masters” of the esoteric order A∴A∴—a magical and mystical organization Crowley co-founded sometime in the early 20th century but claimed existed in various forms since the beginning of history — attained their true wills, then by that criterion those individuals, including (according to the tradition) Buddha, Lao-tzu, and Muhammad, were just as much or even better “Thelemites” than those who today claim to adhere to Crowley’s system. (And yet these people predate Crowley by centuries or millenia!)

There is also the fact that, as Liber AL states, “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.” And if this is in fact the sole dogma or “law” of Thelema, then what else must a Thelemite believe or do in order to be a bonafide Thelemite?

Granted, there is that additional portion of the Law, “Love is the law, love under will,” equating will with love. Perhaps the would-be Thelemite must adhere to this idea as well. Perhaps he must be a lover as much as he is a doer. (Although many Thelemites would say that will is necessarily one with love.)

There are those who claim that Thelemites must necessarily accept the Book of the Law as a whole, however interpreted. There are those who claim that the whole of Crowley’s class A, or most important, libri (collectively termed the Holy Books), must be embraced by prospective Thelemites, and then there are those who don’t see one as a Thelemite unless one actively practices what Crowley described as magick.

Still, there are those who see Crowley’s instructions from his Liber Aleph as necessary to be carried out by every Thelemite, as Crowley described them as the “means prescribed in our Holy Books,” although it should be clarified that these instructions were specifically written for Crowley’s “magical son” Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad).

These instructions, though they seem meant for Jones in particular, are often followed by a number of Thelemites as a daily magical and mystical regimen, and include some of the most popular Thelemic practices:

  • 1. “Neglect never the fourfold Adoration of the Sun in his four Stations, for thereby thou dost affirm thy Place in Nature and her Harmonies.” (Liber Resh, a ritual which, though often appearing to be a mere adoration of the Sun, has a much deeper spiritual significance.)
  • 2. “Neglect not the Performance of the Ritual of the Pentagram, and of the Assumption of the Form of Hoor-pa-Kraat.” (The Lesser Banishing (or Invoking) Ritual of the Pentagram (usually banishing), a ritual used to clear the magician and her space of detrimental force or forces. This is paired with the assumption of the god-form (standing in imitation of the deity) or Harpocrates, as if, or in order to, identify oneself with the deity.)
  • 3. “Neglect not the daily Miracle of the Mass, either by the Rite of the Gnostic Catholic Church, or that of the Phoenix.” (Liber XV, or the Gnostic Mass, a group ritual performed by the EGC; alternatively the Mass of the Phoenix, a solo ritual. Both rituals Crowley wrote and both are eucharistic in nature. Both have the aim of providing spiritual transformation.)
  • 4. “Neglect not the Performance of the Mass of the Holy Ghost, as Nature Herself prompteth thee.” (A secret ritual, probably involved in a particular degree of the Thelemic fraternal order Ordo Templi Orientis. Presumably involves orgasm, whether by masturbation or other sexual activity, both as a celebration of the sacrament of existence and an offering to divinity and the universe itself (not that a distinction should necessarily be made) in worship and love of Nuit. A taking of pleasure as a form of equating spiritual activity and advancement with uninhibited joy.)
  • 5. “Travel much also in the Empyrean in thy Body of Light, seeking ever Abodes more fiery and lucid.” (Astrally projecting, or intentionally inducing an out-of-body experience, as an occult technique, in order to divine more about oneself, the world, and how to come closer to one’s will and purpose in it.)
  • 6. “Finally, exercise the Eight Limbs of Yoga.” (These so-called Eight Limbs long precede Thelema, but yoga was important to Crowley and is important to many Thelemites. The eight limbs include yama (abstaining from what one should abstain from — in the Thelemic context this includes abstaining from interfering with the wills of others, and from diverting from one’s own true will), niyama (committing to do what is appropriate or right — in the Thelemic context, discovering and following one’s own will), asana (practicing maintaining postures), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (the withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditative absorption), and samadhi (the union of subject and object in perception).

As we can see from reading this small section of Liber Aleph, Crowley seems to have intended Thelema to largely be a mishmash of Western and Eastern esoteric and mystical practices and ideas, at least insofar as adherents take up his ideas. And, indeed, one can confidently say that Thelema, at least in the fullness of it as proposed by the menagerie of Crowley’s libri, draws from philosophical, mystical, and religious sources as diverse as alchemy, Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Hinduism, Islam, mystery religions and cults, Neoplatonism, Neopythagoreanism, paganism, pragmatism, Qabalah, Rosicrucianism, skepticism, tantra, and Taoism, among other traditions, systems, and philosophies.

However, there is a continual debate among Thelemites as to what extent one should follow Crowley’s teachings or practices or adhere to preferred ideas based on one’s own inclinations, in line with the self-determination fostered by the Law of Thelema. Some Thelemites see those who practice a kind of Thelema too closely aligned with Crowley’s personal opinions and ideas as a sort of “Crowleyanity,” and believe Thelema is more often than not about figuring things out for oneself. That being said, Crowley is often looked to as, at best, the authoritative prophet — whatever the term “prophet” does or does not mean to you — of the Aeon of Horus, and at the very least a good source of information whose suggestions are often worth taking a look at.

Nevertheless, Crowley having drawn from numerous sources in his development of the system, Thelema is most certainly eclectic and syncretic, and, according to at least one of its Holy Books, universalist (all-embracing or all-embraceable). As we read in the Class A document Liber Porta Lucis (The Book of the Gate of Light):

“19. To you who yet wander in the Court of the Profane we cannot yet reveal all; but you will easily understand that the religions of the world are but symbols and veils of the Absolute Truth. So also are the philosophies. To the adept, seeing all these things from above, there seems nothing to choose between Buddha and Mohammed, between Atheism and Theism.

“20. The many change and pass; the one remains. Even as wood and coal and iron burn up together in one great flame, if only that furnace be of transcendent heat; so in the alembic of this spiritual alchemy, if only the zelator blow sufficiently upon his furnace all the systems of earth are consumed in the One Knowledge.”

However, the book notes that though, at the outset, one seeker may be suited to one particular spiritual path, their journey may become broader as they go on:

“21. Nevertheless, as a fire cannot be started with iron alone, in the beginning one system may be suited for one seeker, another for another.

“22. We therefore who are without the chains of ignorance, look closely into the heart of the seeker and lead him by the path which is best suited to his nature unto the ultimate end of all things, the supreme realization, the Life which abideth in Light, yea, the Life which abideth in Light.”

In another Holy Book, Liber Cordis Sincte Serpente (The Book of the Heart Girt with a Serepent) we read that, similarly, the One Truth is concealed in a variety of forms and words:

“2. Adonai spake unto V.V.V.V.V., saying: There must ever be division in the word.

“3. For the colours are many, but the light is one.

“4. Therefore thou writest that which is of mother of emerald, and of lapis-lazuli, and of turquoise, and of alexandrite.

“5. Another writeth the words of topaz, and of deep amethyst, and of gray sapphire, and of deep sapphire with a tinge as of blood.

“6. Therefore do ye fret yourselves because of this.

“7. Be not contented with the image.

“8. I who am the Image of an Image say this.

“9. Debate not of the image, saying Beyond! Beyond!”

We also read that there are different methods of spiritual attainment for different individuals, and that different individuals reach enlightenment based on their particular aptitudes:

“One mounteth unto the Crown by the moon and by the Sun, and by the arrow, and by the Foundation, and by the dark home of the stars from the black earth.

“10. Not otherwise may ye reach unto the Smooth Point.

“11. Nor is it fitting for the cobbler to prate of the Royal matter. O cobbler! mend me this shoe, that I may walk. O king! if I be thy son, let us speak of the Embassy to the King thy Brother.”

In a 1909 editorial on his system of Scientific Illuminism, a form of skeptical spirituality and scientific rigor with which Crowley had hoped his students would approach the mysteries of magick and mysticism, Crowley noted that aspirants to A∴A∴ and would-be Scientific Illuminists are “Mystics, ever eagerly seeking a solution to unpleasant facts,” “Men of Science, ever eagerly acquiring pertinent facts,” “Skeptics, ever eagerly examining those facts,” “Philosophers, ever eagerly classifying and co-ordinating those well-criticised facts,” “Epicureans, ever eagerly enjoying the unification of those facts,” “Philanthropists, ever eagerly transmitting our knowledge of those facts to others,” “Syncretists, taking truth from all systems, ancient and modern;” and “Eclectics, ruthlessly discarding the inessential factors in any one system, however perfect.”

One of Crowley’s more popular works among Thelemites is his Liber OZ, a single-page document on “the rights of man.” OZ determines that “man,” meaning every human being, has the right to dress how they want, travel and dwell where they want, eat what they want, love whom and how they want, speak and express what they want, craft what they want, and, perhaps most importantly, think what and how they want, among other things. It also states that one has the right to “kill those who would thwart these rights.”

OZ largely shows Thelema to be libertarian or anarchistic in regards to social philosophy, making the individual their own supreme God and the center of their own universe. (Hadit is everywhere the center of Nuit, and within all human beings Hadit, who is with Nuit equally supreme, dwells.)

Indeed, Crowley once wrote, “The family, the clan, the state count for nothing; the Individual is the Autarch,” and in Liber OZ he states, “There is no god but Man.”

An essay Crowley wrote, “Duty,” also elaborates on Thelemic ethics: it states that everyone who accepts the Law of Thelema has a duty to themselves, a duty to other individuals, a duty to humankind as a whole, and a duty to all other beings and things.

One’s duty to oneself is to be true to oneself, to explore the nature of one’s being with sincerity, to develop as much as one can towards truth and the grandness of experience and purpose, to prevent others from interfering with this process, and to allow others to aid one in growing in this manner. One’s duty to other individuals is to “unite passionately” with them as other forms of consciousness, and to bring out the differences between oneself and others and allow for those differences to be complementary and their mutual intermingling result in joy and beauty, rather than strife. (Unless that strife itself result in joy, beauty, or the furtherance of one or another’s true wills.) One’s duty to humankind is to ensure humanity’s welfare, to establish the Law of Thelema, and moreover freedom in general, as the basis of conduct, and to prevent harm and the interference with the wills of others by others. One’s duty to all other beings and things is not to abuse the natural qualities of those beings or things, and not to fit them for a purpose which is outside of their nature.

Liber AL’s most basic injunction, alongside the Law of Thelema — “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and “Love is the law, love under will,” — “There is no Law beyond Do what thou wilt,” and “Thou hast no right but to do thy will…” is probably, “Every man and every woman is a star.” This statement makes clear that, while all individuals are ultimately connected, they are yet individual and unique, separate and self-contained forces of distinctive essence.

Crowley explained this verse in greater depth in the “New Comment” on Liber AL: “Its main statement is that each human being is an Element of the Cosmos, self-determined and supreme, co-equal with all other Gods.”

It also references the “star” I referred to earlier, the star that is symbolized by Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and is known in the Thelemic schema of the individual’s psycho-spiritual makeup as the khabs.

“The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs,” we read in Liber AL. What does this mean?

In the ancient Egyptian worldview, the khabs, which literally means “star,” was seen as an aspect of the individual’s spiritual self, and in the view put forth by Liber AL, the khabs or star may be the individual, eternal essence of the individual. It might be seen as an aspect of reality, or that part of the individual which is connected with an aspect of reality, that is unchanging and persistent, yet may be somehow ultimately penultimate to the deepest aspect of reality and self represented by Hadit. (Again, whether the “star” is ultimate and identical, or penultimate, to the deepest aspect of self is debatable.) Qabalistically, this may be regarded as the neshamah or chiah, some aspect of self that is either (in the case of neshamah) aware of the Absolute or (in the case of chiah) connected with the Absolute. The very deepest aspect of self, and therefore that which we could equate with Hadit, may be yechidah, that part of self which is indistinguishable from the Absolute.

Of course, this schema is just my personal take, based on the reading that I personally have done. Others interpret Crowley, Liber AL, and the notion of the self, soul, essence, or individual’s connection with ultimate reality differently.

Regardless, Liber AL does give us this somewhat puzzling statement, that “the Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs.” Interpret how you will. (Crowley left the interpretation of The Book of the Law up to the individual, namely based on reference to his writings.)

Thelema as a phrase is mystically equivalent to agape, or “[divine] love” in Koine Greek, via the technique of isopsephy, or the attribution of particular numbers to letters, a technique used for Greek which is similar to gematria, a very similar process used for Hebrew. (Both are favored by occultists in the development of various workings, rituals, and other magical phenomena.) It turns out that, with both, we end up with the number 93. Because the Law of Thelema hinges on the terms “will” and “love,” 93 is an important number for many Thelemites, and the number is often used as a greeting in person or for written correspondence among Thelemites. Farewells are often written or stated as, “93s,” or written as, “93 93/93,” signifying “Love is the law, love under will.”

Agape means a particular type of love, namely divine or mystical love, a kind of love exalted to a godly state, as well as the rapture induced by such love.

“Do what thou wilt” as a term seems to have originated from the French Catholic humorist, writer, and humanist Franciscan monk Francois Rabelais (ca. 1494–1553), whom Crowley designated a saint of the E.G.C. and considered to be one of his previous incarnations. In his novel Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais wrote of a giant named Gargantua, who builds an “Abbey of Thélème,” a monastery wherein the monastics enjoy a swimming pool, a maid service, and other luxuries not found in most ascetic circles. In the Abbey, only one rule is to be observed by the monks: “Fay çe que vouldras” or “Do What Thou Wilt.”

“Thelema” is used in the Septuagint, the earliest Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, to mean the will of God, the will of a pious individual, and the royal will of of a monarch or ruler. In the New Testament is is used exclusively to refer to God’s will. It is most applicable to the system of Crowleyan, esoteric, or modern Thelema when conceived as the will of God or a supreme being, that being understood to be at once oneself and all other human beings, individually as co-supremacies.

Besides Rabelais and the Bible, there are other historical antecedents to the modern development of Thelema. One is the Hellfire Club of Sir Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer (1708–1781), an English rake and politician of the 18th century. Though not the founder of what were several high-society organizations for libertines of the time in Britain and Ireland, collectively named “the Hellfire Club,” Dashwood was and remains the most popular member, and founded the best-known incarnation of the Club, known as The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe (among a few other names). The motto of his version of the Club was nearly identical to that of Rabelais’s abbey: “Fais ce que tu voudras,” in a different version of French also meaning “Do what thou wilt.”

Horace Walpole, a contemporary of Dashwood, stated that the members’ “practice was rigorously pagan: Bacchus and Venus were the deities to whom they almost publicly sacrificed; and the nymphs and the hogsheads that were laid in against the festivals of this new church, sufficiently informed the neighborhood of the complexion of those hermits.” Additionally, statues in the Order’s garden were of various pagan deities, and shrines to them were located there.

The view of deity that Crowley himself espoused is difficult to express in simple terms or comprehend in a straightforward way, but while he was, in one sense, an atheist, and in another a pantheist (one who views the universe and God as the same) or panentheist (one who views God as one with and at the same time transcending the universe), he also in practice made use of or adhered to an at least provisional or limited sort of polytheism, one that allowed for him to call upon the force or forces represented by any number deities without necessarily having to admit to their objective existence, or their existence apart from that of the individual (or microcosm). This brings up the issue of whether, for Crowley, the microcosm (the individual) and the macrocosm (the universe) can be separated at all; or to what extent, or if, the imagination (say, a deity that one imagines to exist) can be completely separated from reality. (That the deity actually exists.)

Given this kind of polytheism was convenient for Crowley and Dashwood had evidently admired pre-Christian European paganism, Crowley’s epicurean lifestyle lined up squarely with that of Dashwood and the Hellfire Club, and Crowley greatly admired the motto of “Do what thou wilt,” it’s no surprise that Dashwood and his Order are considered antecedents to Thelema.

Another historical antecedent to Thelema may be a famous phrase (emphasis mine) written by Saint Augustine of Hippo, a Doctor of the Church in Catholicism and Church Father of Latin Christendom: “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”

I wrote briefly just before about Crowley’s view of God, and how it was nuanced, complex, and not easily put into words — that he can at once be considered an atheist, polytheist, pantheist, and panentheist. But what of Thelemites and their view of God? What do they think?

As is turns out, for many Thelemites it’s much of the same: not easily expressed, or if expressed, manifold, and if not one thing, then a dynamic view, one that may easily change over time, or a versatile multiplicity of views rather than a single viewpoint.

As the Law of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” there is naturally no other law than “Do what thou wilt.” Full stop. But if one is to accept The Book of the Law fully then wouldn’t one at least have some conception of deity, given that it speaks of Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit?

Yes, but those deities can, as I mentioned earlier, be viewed as real or imaginary, actual beings or convenient metaphors. Beyond that a Thelemite may have a specific point of view: she may be an atheist, agnostic, apatheist, ignostic, deist, monotheist (for example, viewing the three speakers of Liber AL as three tones of one voice), polytheist, pantheist, panentheist, pandeist, panendeist, some combination of these or other type of “-ist”, or none of these to begin with. Additionally, if one were to regard Thelema as beyond or outside the scope of religion altogether — a philosophy or socio-political ideology, say — then one could call oneself both irreligious and a Thelemite.

Thelema often seems to be a relatively anarchistic or libertarian form of magick and spirituality, freeing to the practitioner, liberating to those who would take part in it. However, as Crowley notes in “The Message of the Master Therion, “it should be clear that “Do what thou wilt” does not mean “Do what you like.” It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond.” It is just as much a personal commitment to pursue and accomplish the Great Work, which itself is the work of a lifetime, than to be idle and free to do what one enjoys all the time.

The Great Work, however, is not bound by the so-called aeons, that of Horus being our current, should one follow Crowley’s cosmology. Previous aeons, or zeitgeists, eras typified by a kind of mass-human consciousness, were, according to Crowley’s theory, determined by how humanity related to the divine on various levels.

The oldest known aeon was that of Isis, and stretched back into prehistory: this aeon was typified by the sense of an overarching power given to a “Great Mother”-type figure, a divine feminine from whom humanity drew its strength and to whom it returned in death. Hence prehistoric societies were dominated by clans that lived off of the fruits nature, undisturbed, through hunting and gathering. Think of the ancient fertility cults surrounding mother deities discovered at archaeological sites in the Near East.

In his Equinox of the Gods Crowley described this period as “simple, quiet, easy, and pleasant; the material ignores the spiritual.”

Second came the usurpation of the Aeon of Isis the Mother by the Aeon of the Father, Osiris, when humanity began to engage in agriculture and city-building, appealing to father-like and patriarchal gods, and numerous cultures practiced rites or honored myths surrounding the ideas of death and resurrection of their (namely male) deities, who through being reborn conquered death and in doing so often offered the opportunity for eternal life to human beings themselves, should human beings petition the gods or God for their favor by giving their life’s work, toil, or death to the deity or deities. Many religions that we know of and still practice today take part in this formula, and Christianity, with its narrative of a god who dies and is reborn in order to open the gate to eternal life, should of course those who wish for it live freely of the curse of sin, is perhaps the best known example.

In the Aeon of Osiris man’s success was largely seen as dependent upon resurrection, and resurrection was often afforded through some kind of virtue. Even in Buddhism, a religion which professes no supreme being, the fruit of nirvana is only afforded to those who, whether through the gargantuan work of one lifetime or over the course of many rebirths, manage to rightly follow the Noble Eightfold Path. And even in death, Buddha was assumed by his followers to have entered parinirvana, final relinquishment from rebirth, leaving behind a path which others could follow to liberation.

Crowley wrote of the Aeon of Osiris in The Equinox of the Gods, “The second [Aeon] is of suffering and death: the spiritual strives to ignore the material. Christianity and all cognate religions worship death, glorify suffering, deify corpses.”

With the reception of Liber AL vel Legis Crowley inaugurated the third aeon, or the aeon of the Child, Horus, who, instead of either demanding death or requiring propitiation or virtue as the price for rebirth into a lofty afterlife or to extirpation of rebirth, does away with birth and death and, if one is to believe in it, resurrection, altogether. And this has all to do with how the Thelemite views themselves’ in relation to the universe of which they a part. (Remember that in magick, the microcosm (individual) is ultimately one with the macrocosm (universe).)

“The Thelemite does not “suffer death,”” wrote Crowley. “He is eternal and perceives Himself the Universe, by virtue of the categories of Life and Death, which are not real, but subjective conditions of his perception, like Time and Space. They are forms of his artistic presentation.”

Man in the aeon of Horus no longer needs to appeal to any deity for the sake of eternal life, as in truth the child Horus, who is Man himself — and, as Liber OZ states, “There is no God but man.” —was never born, and cannot die, as he merely perceives birth and death as conditions of a singular, unified existence. The child, humanity, the individual, Horus, sets out in the universe, treating it as his playpen, the galaxies his very toys.

In his The Heart of the Master, Crowley wrote that the aeon of Horus is that of “… the crowned and conquering child, who dieth not, nor is reborn, but goeth radiant ever upon His Way. Even so goeth the Sun: for as it is now known that night is but the shadow of the Earth, so Death is but the shadow of the Body, that veileth his Light from its bearer.”

That being said, rebirth is yet still emphasized, at least symbolically, in at least one of the initiatory rites of A∴A∴, and many Thelemites in fact believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. Crowley himself believed in reincarnation, and wrote on it in a number texts, and while he admitted openly that we don’t absolutely know what happens after death, he suggested there is some kind of rebirth. Things do become confusing when one reads Liber AL, which at least appears to suggest that, at least for some, death results in absorption into the Absolute, or Nuit, which would suggest that reincarnation does not occur. (The King being absorbed into Nuit bears striking similarities to the attainment of Nirvana, or total cessation of rebirth, by Buddhist aspirants.) In Liber Aleph Crowley suggests that the spirit of a person can haunt the Earth after death, but he notes at the outset, “Thou hast made Question of me concerning Death, and this is my Opinion, of which I say not: this is the Truth.”

All in all, the question of doctrine regarding an afterlife comes down, like many things in Thelema, to “Do what thou wilt,” or in other words, “determine the belief for yourself,” although Liber AL would likely best inform one’s ideas.

It has been suggested that the aeon of Horus has resulted in other outcomes: it is in this aeon of Horus that the material is in fact presumably one with the spiritual, not divided, and so pleasure and lust and enjoyment are not anathema to spirituality, but that all pleasures may be enjoyed as “acts of worship” unto the universe itself, Nuit.

And why shouldn’t it be so? Why should the bawdy joy of wild sex or a night of drunkenness be somehow “worse” than ten minutes of meditation?

As we read in Liber AL, “Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing and any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt…” Indeed, unless all things are one, unless lust and spiritual labor even are one, there comes a hurt of creating division where none needs to exist.

Yet that is not to say that the Thelemite is necessarily a hedonist. The Great Work, after all, demands great discipline, psychologically and spiritually and, especially in the case of yoga, even physically. Yet there is no claim among Crowley’s works that those who do not obtain and perform their true wills are somehow outside the fold of the joy that the world offers to the Thelemite. The lazy Thelemite can continue to see the world in a positive, lustrous light, one which revivifies him each day to enjoy life as the God of his own universe, as the very master of his world, whether he performs Liber Resh four times a day or sits in yogic asana an hour each morning. It is only to grow more emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fulfilled that one pursues one’s true will. There has never been a claim that one cannot live a generally happy life without mysticism or magick, only that there is a higher joy, and an elevated rapture, in seeing the true will come to fruition. It may very well be that one’s true will, and the true self, is only really revealed when one has committed to spiritual practice, although no one can ultimately say for sure that there is a universal condition under which enlightenment comes about. It just must be understood that despite the fact that in Thelema there is an emphasis on spiritual discipline, it does not necessarily preclude living a life of sensual enjoyment, and in fact there are times that sensual enjoyment is encouraged and even equated with spirituality in Thelemic texts.

Thelemites are, while often welcomed to promulgate their Law, encouraged not to convert:

“Success is thy proof,” reads Liber AL, “argue not; convert not; talk not over much!” Additionally it reads, “Then they shall chance to abide in this bliss or no; it is no odds.”

Crowley himself used to greet those he met with, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and there are those who have written content to promulgate Thelema, but Thelemites essentially understand that to force Thelema on anyone would be patently absurd, paradoxical, and anathema to the Law itself.

The spiritual practices typically taken up by Thelemites, namely those written or recommended by Crowley, are usually divided into two broad categories: magick and mysticism.

Magick, according to Crowley, is “To train the mind to move with the maximum speed and energy, with the utmost possible accuracy in the chosen direction, and with the minimum of disturbance or friction,” and “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” This includes everything from mundane acts, such as gardening, to acts of ritual magick, such as the evocation or invocation of extramundane entities. Ultimately magick involves, according to Crowley, “A widening of the horizon of the mind,” and “An improvement of the control of the mind,” as is stated in his Liber O. Magick in Thelema is represented by the formula 0 = 2, a way of suggesting that out of nothing comes manifestation. By proper use of magick one may move toward and eventually invoke and come to the K&C of the HGA, and Crowley suggested that magick used for any other purpose was in effect an error — black magick.

Mysticism in Thelema is represented by the formula 2 = 0, a way of suggesting that out of manifestation comes dissolution. It mainly consists of yoga, which Crowley said is “To stop the mind altogether.” Yoga consists of the Eight Limbs previously mentioned, which are typically enacted in succession until samadhi is achieved: by meditation and the resulting mental absorption the mystic eventually comes to the union of subject and object. Great trances, such as atmadarshana and even the ineffable trance of shivadarshana can be achieved by the practice of yoga, resulting in mystical mastery and spiritual enlightenment.

Worked together, magick and mysticism, especially when bolstered by study of the [Hermetic] Qabalah, are potent means of achieving the realization of the true will.

Crowley highly encouraged practitioners of magick, as a matter of testing the effectiveness of their operations, to keep a magical diary, scrupulously recording the details of any magical experiments.

Thelemic holidays are based on a special Thelemic calendar, which itself includes “feast” days commemorating events relating to to the founding of Thelema and Crowley’s life. These include the Feast for the Equinox of the Gods, or Thelemic New Year (March 20/21: remembering the founding of Thelema and the invocation of Horus in 1904); the Feast of the First Night of the Prophet and his Bride, referring to the marriage of Crowley and his then-wife, Rose (August 12: on a mundane level this celebrates the fact that Crowley and Rose’s marriage made the reception of the Law possible, while in another way it celebrates the E.G.C.’s Collect of Marriage and union in general); and the solstices and equinoxes in general; among a few other holidays.

There are no rules on whether how one should observe these holidays, or even if one should. It’s simply up to the discretion of the Thelemite.

A number of Thelemic organizations exist, mainly as fraternal magical orders. By far the largest and most influential of these is the “Caliphate” or traditional O.T.O., which maintains lodges and chapters, as well as temple spaces for its E.G.C. arm, internationally. The best-recognized Thelemic organization alongside the O.T.O. is probably the A∴A∴, which today actually exists as several different groups in different lineages derived from Crowley. Other groups include O.T.O. variants the Typhonian Order and Society Ordo Templi Orientis (S.O.T.O.), as well as the German Fraternitas Saturni, the Temple of the Silver Star, the Order of Thelemic Knights, the Temple of Our Lady of the Abyss, Ordo Astri, and a number of others. Typically men in these orders are referred to by the term frater (“brother;” plural fraters) and women by the term soror (“sister;” plural sorores).

Thelema is, or can be, many things, much depending on how the individual interprets it, and much with reference to Crowley’s writings and one’s own ingenium and devising. There being “no law beyond Do what thou wilt,” doctrine in Thelema is arguably not so much a matter of faith — one could find any number of Thelemites who would say Thelema is a “faith” beyond need for faith — as it is an issue of personal development, understanding, self-knowledge, and coming to comprehend certain ideas in light of one’s own erudition, skill, and ability. The path of magick and mysticism requires self-discipline, yet that path is never demanded of anyone, and in truth nothing is demanded of anyone in Thelema other than that they discover for themselves who they are, what they are, and what they are meant to do, to the best of their ability. (And that they allow for others to do the same.) Why is this so?

In Thelema is finally recognized a form and system of spirituality which promotes happiness for its own sake — and not merely a happiness of simple whim, but the lasting joy that comes from finding one’s place and purpose in this vast and chaotic universe. The “God” of Thelema tells us in the Holy Book Liber Tzaddi that he is “not come to rebuke you, or to enslave you,” but rather that he will, “bring you joy to your pleasure, peace to your languor, wisdom to your folly.”

“All that ye do is right, if so be that ye enjoy it,” he states in that text. “… Come with me, and I will give you all that is desirable upon the earth… I ask you to sacrifice nothing at mine altar; I am the God who giveth all.”

“I offer you the certain consciousness of bliss,” states Horus.

Hadit himself in Liber AL says, “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”

These words compel us to consider that in Thelema happiness, being equivalent with reality, or existence, itself, is the very purpose of being. What else is or can be the function of the true will, other than to fulfill the one who carries it out? And, as we know, all have the right to fulfill this will, to live by this Law, to discover and live out this “consciousness of bliss.” This is the very birthright of humanity: happiness, fulfillment, the summum bonum.

For the Thelemite, recognizing, as the words of Liber AL state, that existence is itself joy, joy is to be had everywhere, even in sorrow. Existence is therefore a sacrament: birth a chance for division from the universe into individuated consciousness so that our return to unity might itself be a miracle of unimaginable ecstasy; life a journey through triumph over adversity, so that in our growth we know the delight of overcoming weakness; death the crown of our adventure into the wild revel of the universe, and our release into blissful unity with that Absolute condition which gave rise to us and all things.

As Liber Tzaddi states, “There is joy in the setting-out; there is joy in the journey; there is joy in the goal.”

What more can be asked of in this life, or in any life? And what more could any religion, philosophy, or spiritual system address?

LOGOS VIII: A Few (Failed) Experiments in (Lucid) Dreaming

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Mugwort can supposedly improve dream recall and lucidity.

It’s been said by a number of people, especially within the herbalist community, that mugwort (various plants within the genus Artemisia are called mugwort, but usually the term refers to Artemisia vulgaris) improves or changes the quality of dreams, improves dream recall, and can even possibly induce lucid dreams. I’ve been told, and I have read, that certain Native American tribes once used mugwort for the purpose of enhancing dreams.

Lucid dreaming is often said to be a potential pre-requisite—sometimes, though not always, necessary—to gaining the ability to astrally project: in more scientific terms, to willfully induce an out-of-body experience and explore the out-of-body state utilizing the imagination, or a substratum of the imagination. (That’s my best way of putting it for now, and my understanding of the concept may change in the future.)

Therefore I became interested in the use of oneirogens, or dream potentiators, substances that enhance or change the quality of dreams in some way.

Astral projection, and the mastery of traveling on the so-called astral plane (to the skeptic a space generated by the mind during out-of-body experiences), is a necessity for the neophyte (1°=10) grade in the A∴A∴. I am currently two steps away from this grade, and although that may sound like it’s close, it’s not at all: the journey from student to neophyte takes a lot of time and energy and work. As a student who is still going through the reading material necessary to pass the examination required to become a probationer (0°=0), I can tell you this is a real struggle even at the outset.

Anyway, I thought I might try and get a head start on astral projection, given that it is indeed a requirement for the neophyte, and if lucid dreaming aids in opening the door to astral projection, why not pursue that?

I decided to conduct experiments using ground mugwort leaf that I procured online, in order to see if I could induce a lucid dream state.

This experiment of mine was unfortunately inconclusive. I made mugwort tea with a large amount of the ground leaf of the plant (Artemisia vulgaris, known as common mugwort, riverside wormwood, wild wormwood, and sailor’s tobacco, among other names) and drank it before bed, went to sleep, and noticed no change in the quality of my dreams or my dream recall. I certainly didn’t enter a lucid state.

A second experiment involved me smoking the plant: it has a decent taste when smoked, which can’t be said of the tea, which is more bitter. I smoked it before bed, went to sleep, and again noticed no change in the quality of my dreams or dream recall.

Mugwort is claimed to be mildly psychoactive, potentially causing mild sedation and euphoria, but in my experience none of that has occurred with the use of this herb.

It may be that a higher dose is needed, though I’m guessing that a tincture or extract may work better, and if not, that this herb’s ability to affect dreams is simply overblown and I should move on to other substances.

I have, in fact, used other dream potentiators in an attempt to change or enhance the quality of my dreams, and ultimately to reach the lucid state.

Once or twice I used a nicotine patch: this is said by many that, if worn at night, during sleep, to induce vivid dreams. In my experience a four milligram patch did nothing to enhance or alter my dreams in any noticeable way. However, I blame this on myself: my nicotine tolerance is extremely high—I vape 30 milligrams 50 milligrams of nicotine salts all day, every day (I admit I’m terribly addicted), so the idea that nicotine would affect me in any substantial way that I wouldn’t expect is, in a way, absurd, unless the dose were very high. That is why, like with mugwort, I believe I should try again, but with a more substantial dosage: perhaps next time I will use two or three patches. We’ll have to see.

Using a nicotine patch during sleep can supposedly improve the vividness of dreams.

Choline bitartrate is an essential nutrient for the production of acetylcholine in the brain. It has been said to affect dreams and be a mainstay for lucid dreamers. I took 1 gram of this supplement before bed and noticed no change in my dreams or dream recall. Again, dose may be a factor.

Choline as a supplement promotes the production of acetylcholine in the brain, which affects dreaming.

Lastly, valerian: I have both smoked valerian and drank it as a tea. I noticed no effect when smoking it, but after drinking two teabags worth of it on several occasions I have always become tired. It is certainly good at making one fall asleep. But once one is asleep I haven’t noticed that it changes much of anything. Again, perhaps this is related to dose, but I’m not holding my breath.

Valerian is a natural sleep aid that is said by some to affect the quality of dreams.

I should mention that I am on a few psychiatric medications at the moment: Latuda, Cymbalta, and Wellbutrin. These may be altering or suppressing the ability of the substances I’m using to change the quality of my dreams from doing so, as these are either antidepressants (Wellbutrin and Cymbalta) or antipsychotics (Latuda).

The only oneirogen that I have had success with is melatonin, and that was a number of years ago. Unfortunately the success resulted in a very negative experience. It wasn’t quite a lucid dream, but it remains the most vivid dream I’ve ever had, and one of the most, if not the most, horrifying.

I took nine milligrams of melatonin before bed and went to sleep. I dreamed I was in the foyer of a white marble palace. There was a long staircase against the right wall that lead up to a balcony, and on the stairs stood a number of people, most of whom I didn’t know, including a boy who seemed of South Asian descent. He wore a turban and cream-colored tunic. My cousin was standing on the stairs and invited me to go up them. I did. I went through a door along the balcony into a bedroom and there was a girl there, naked on the bed. My cousin watched as I fucked this random woman, then a man in a top hat and tuxedo entered the room, bowed, and told me I had to leave. I was transported to a long, tall hallway of the same white marble as the foyer. I stared down the hallway and saw that lead off into total blackness. Along one wall was a massive painting of psychedelically-colored arms of a squid or octopus, shifting colors with blinking, multi-colored lights on its suckers. Then Jimi Hendrix jumped out of the painting, thrashing at his guitar and yelling as he landed on his feet. Then something inexplicably awful happened: from the blackness down the hallway came a flying specter with a hideous face so awful that I can’t describe it, and it grabbed me and kept flying down the hallway with me in its arms, screaming in my face, the whole time me looking at its horrific visage. Then I woke up in a total panic. I didn’t know if anything was real for a good minute or so after I woke, thinking I was still dreaming, but after maybe 10 minutes I calmed down. Still, I was shaken and had trouble getting back to sleep that night.

Melatonin is a sleep aid that often affects the quality of dreams.

I have yet to experience a dream so vivid, realistic, and terrifying.

In any case, I will continue to explore oneirogens and techniques to induce lucid dreams, improve dream recall and vividness, and eventually induce astral projection if possible. And, of course, stay tuned for posts about that.

Let’s just hope these future dreams, powerful as they may become, don’t turn into nightmares.

LOGOS VII: Igne Natura Renovatur Integra (The Difficulty of Forming a Daily Practice)

pelican
I.N.R.I. is the set of initials used to abbreviate the Latin phrase “Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum,” or “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” which was placed above Christ’s cross when he was crucified. However, it has also taken on esoteric meanings, including “Igne Natura Renovatur Integra” (“By fire nature is reborn whole”) and “Infinity, Nature, Reason, Immortality.”

Life is full of pitfalls. It’s riddled with traps and terrors. This world is a dangerous place, where bad things can happen at any moment.

But that’s just the external: the perils presented to us by the world outside.

What of the traps we set for ourselves? Those are often just as bad, if not worse, than whatever the universe has wrought.

I am keenly aware of these inner problems: the failures caused by a lack of willpower and self-discipline. Also the fact that we can take the negativities dwelling within us and project them onto and into the outside world, like placing a garden rake in front of oneself for one to step on.

Many of us engage in a spiritual practice of some sort, what one might call a sadhana. Many of us also fail to fully engage in that sadhana on a regular basis.

I am one of those people (deeply, deeply so), and—believe me—I curse myself for being that way.

I began attempting a daily practice sometime around 2012 or 2013. At the time I was dorming for a semester in college, and was first becoming intimately attracted to Buddhism.

On the floor, next to the bed in my dorm, I set up a small altar of sorts, with a number of implements placed on the top of an ottoman.

These implements included a statuette of the Buddha, a prism, a small mirror, and, if I remember correctly, a singing bowl. There or may not have been several other items included as well.

My intention was to meditate daily in front of this altar, as well as to chant. At the time, as I said, I was becoming deeply interested in Buddhism, to the point that I effectively considered myself a Buddhist, and so my chants consisted of Buddhist mantras.

As far as the meditation went, I tried to pull off zazen on a daily basis. Zazen, to clarify, is a type of sitting meditation practiced by Zen Buddhists, consisting of a basic posture akin to asana (yogic posture) and mindfulness of natural breathing. (Anapanasati.)

Well, ultimately, there was little to no regularity to my meditation and ritual schedule: I tried to force myself into committing to a daily spiritual regimen, but fell flat on my face.

Fast-forward a number of years and not much has changed: I’m still trying to meditate and perform various rituals on a daily basis, and have had no success.

My magical diary, one which I started a few months ago, has very long breaks and days upon days with entries of “Nothing” jotted down. (A magical diary is a diary used to document one’s magical practices, although more broadly it can include any spiritual work and general self-development. It, along with the magick it’s meant to document, was greatly advocated by Aleister Crowley, and I’m a fan of his work, to say the least.)

Where does one find the fire, the passion necessary to form a daily practice? It’s as if the fortitude, self-discipline, and sheer willpower necessary to forge ahead with daily meditation and ritual is always just out of reach.

I don’t want to make excuses, but I will say that, knowing myself pretty well after living with this super-distractable mind for nearly 30 years now, I think I have somewhat of a sense of why, at least in large part, I am this way:

The truth is that my inability to form a regular spiritual practice is really symptomatic of my inability to form routines at all. I’ve never been able to stick to anything, and this is mainly because I have dealt with severe ADHD for most of my life.

If you want evidence of my inability to commit to even my self-professed “passions,” those things I supposedly enjoy, just take a look at the vast spaces of time between the posts on my blogs/sites The Grand Tangent, The Drunken Llama (there I last posted six months ago), and this one. It feels as if it takes a mountain of willpower to even accomplish small tasks when I become so easily distracted.

People ask me, “Do you have any hobbies?” And the truth is, not really. Even things I think I’m sort of passionate about I can’t bring myself to focus on and related tasks are very difficult to bring to completion.

It’s been this way for essentially as long as I can remember, and I’m nearly 30 now.

I get random little bursts of zeal for various projects, but they’re just that: bursts. I can’t sustain interest in anything for long, before my mind goes wandering off. Hence why, when I first became interested in Thelema and magick, I was performing banishing rituals nearly every day for a week straight before my enthusiasm finally broke. (A week might not sound like a lot, but for me it absolutely is.)

Now I haven’t practiced any magick in several months.

I once had a regimen planned, full of magical material to practice throughout the day: rising in the morning and making an affirmation before performing a solar adoration known as Liber Resh, then meditating, later another round of Resh and meditation, performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram followed by the Middle Pillar Ritual, more meditation with perhaps a particular asana, then two more rounds of Resh and meditation, interspersed with saying Will (similar to the Christian practice of saying grace) before meals.

Granted that may seem like a lot, and I have been accused of trying to run before I can walk before, but even when I try to slow things down it’s to no avail: I can’t seem to even get myself to meditate for 10 minutes in a day!

Depression certainly also takes a toll. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), or dysthymia, when I was 12 or 13, later than when I was given the diagnosis of ADHD. And that has also been a struggle, alongsideI’ll admitgeneralized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

I’m medicated, for sure, but that doesn’t help much. I’ve been on dozens of different psychiatric medications since the age of 12, and few if any have helped with my two primary problems: my anxiety and my inability to concentrate.

My failure to find any spiritual completion, aggravated by distractability and anxiety, inevitably aggravates my depression. And then I fall into using drugs to counteract that depression, as well as the anxiety.

I’ve never been one to go hard on anything “hard,” but kratom, tianeptine, and alcohol have been allies for a while now.

Unfortunately my attachment to these substances landed me twice in a DDIOP (dual-diagnosis intensive outpatient program), both of which I flunked out of because I was unable to stop drinking or taking kratom. The truth is, without any spiritual fulfillment, the only thing worth looking forward to each day has been those substances…

And to make matters worse, right before I flunked out the second time, the psychiatrist seeing me for my DDIOP suggested he would put me on a stimulant I hadn’t tried in many years to see if that would help with my inability to concentrate, which he said may have been the source of much of my anxiety.

Yet I blew the option of seeing him on my scheduled appointment when I was kicked out of the program.

Now, the only option to get back to that psychiatrist is to go to rehab, which, if I do it, would be after Christmas this year.

I sleep poorly all the time. My room is a constant mess. I can’t concentrate on anything. I’m tossed around by anxiety and depression. And yet I continue to act as if I can reasonably pursue the A∴A∴, a spiritual organization to which I applied and in which I am in the student or preliminary phase [of one of its current incarnations].

“Good luck,” I say to myself all the time. Yet realistically I don’t see much changing if I’m simply unable to concentrate on anything. My life will probably just continue to go on as it largely has, with no discernible whim or reason or routine to speak of.

That all being said, I still manage to find a little light to look towards. I’m not about to give up all hope of at least some form of attainment. Not now, not when I can still live and act. I have the rest of life before me, and many twists and turns can be taken. The unexpected can happen, and with that being a reality, I know for a fact that I can craft certain situations to best fit my will, should my wit and strength prove powerful enough.

That’s the job of a magician anyway, right?

I.N.R.I. Igne Natura Renovatur Integra. “By fire nature is restored whole,” as an esoteric interpretation of this abbreviation goes. This can be interpreted in the sense that by the “fire” of truth and love humankind is revived in a spiritual sense, but in another sense it may mean that by the difficulty of passing through fire a thing is restored to or given a certain glory. I am reminded of the forging of a sword by iron and flame, taking a base metal and turning it into something tangibly stronger, sharper, more useful for a certain purpose, something bettered.

I’m not one to rely on the works of self-proclaimed “world teacher” or supposed next Thelemic prophet J. Daniel Gunther, as I disagree with him in certain serious matters—though of course I’m sure he, being an exempt adept (I assume, based on the imprimatur of his 2009 work Initiation in the Aeon of the Child) of the A∴A∴, would question where I, a drug-addled dilettante and mere half-assed student of the order, get the information necessary to dispute someone at his “level”—but I do like, and find pertinent, something he wrote in the aforementioned Initiation in the Aeon of the Child: The Inward Journey:

Should you remain a Neophyte for the rest of your life, it must make no difference. Work without lust for result. If the practice drives you mad, then you will just have to go mad, but the practice will continue in the asylum. If the Devil himself tells you that God wants to speak to you face to face, you must shrug it off and tell him you’re not interested, you have a practice to do. And if that damns you to hell for eternity, then you must be willing to go to hell without giving a damn yourself. This cannot be a feigned indifference, for that would only be putting a top hat on a pig. It must be real indifference, and only continued effort will achieve it. Then, when the veil does finally lift, the dark cloud is seen to have been an illusion all the while; Kephra will have borne you through Midnight to the Dawn.”

I’m still two steps away from being a neophyte, and yet this makes sense enough, no matter where you stand in life.

Should I remain absolutely no-one my whole life, chained to a couch or bed by my lack of willpower, my lack of motivation and focus, my anxiety and trepidation, my sadness and grief, it must make no difference. I will continue to try, in my own little way, even if that means having the strength to meditate only once a goddamn year. Even that will mean something, and I will remember that fact with joy and ardor before I am cast into Hell.

LOGOS V: ‘Learning the Joy of Existence in Thelema’ (Article Repost)

THIS ENTRY IS AN EXTERNAL REFERENCE.

The following is a re-publishing of my article “Learning the Joy of Existence in Thelema,” originally titled “Learning the Joy of Existence,” (renamed by the admin of Thelemic Union), as originally published by Thelemic Union:

Unicursal hexagram, the primary symbol of Thelema, superimposed over the image of a swan, as per Thelemic Union.

I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”

Henry Miller

“Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”

Liber AL vel Legis

I’ve done enough suffering in my life. I often think I just can’t do this anymore, that after nearly three decades of bullshit I just want to lay down and never get up again. Yet I know I still have a long way to go: I’m only 28, so this is by no means close to being over, I’m afraid.

I mean, we all do suffer in one way or another. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but if we had to make a bet I think it would be safe to assume we’ve both had our fair share of crap to wade through. That’s simply the nature of being human. But sometimes it’s difficult to look your abysmal luck square in the face and say, “Sure, I’ll keep putting up with this.”

Granted, I guess I should count my lucky stars. I’m in a much better place emotionally than where I was, say, eight months ago. I was just a mess back then. I won’t lie: my track record for mental stability isn’t the best, and too many nights booze and pills had comforted me and rocked me to sleep. These days I can actually lay off those vices a little more, and I don’t feel too too bad on a daily basis.

Yet the joy of life continues to escape me nonetheless. Sure, I’m calm and cozy enough in my own skin, but things just feel drab and dull. The real pleasantries of existence feel somehow out of reach.

“Is this just the latent effect of the way my mind works?” I ask myself. “Or, even if I truly conquer my problems, will I always be this way?”

I just feel stuck.

As a fledgling Thelemite I look to Thelemic texts and Crowley’s works to offer me some kind of insight into the joy of life, and I find great wisdom, albeit a kind I find difficult to actually implement into my life. (These ideas are so abstract and metaphysical: how to go about making them concrete and experiential?)

In Magick Without Tears (published 1954), Crowley describes three schools of magick: the black, yellow, and white. The black school sees the conditions of life as best fled from, and includes such traditions as Buddhism (with its notion of Samsara) and Christianity (with its doctrine of sin). The yellow school sees the conditions of life as generally neutral, and includes Taoism. The white school sees the conditions of life as inherently joyful and positive, and includes Thelema.

But can one experience this seemingly transcendent and spiritual joy and positivity on a consistent, or even continual, basis?

Crowley speaks of different trances—different states of mind that we are capable of tapping into, given the right conditions. He explains these various trances in detail in his work Little Essays Toward Truth. (1938.) One such trance is the Trance of Love.

In that work Crowley explains love thusly:

“Its essence is this: any two things unite, with a double effect; firstly, the destruction of both, accompanied by the ecstasy due to the relief of the strain of separateness; secondly, the creation of a third thing, accompanied by the ecstasy of the realisation of existence, which is Joy until with development it becomes aware of its imperfection, and loves.”

Elsewhere he explains that the universe itself, being a series of such encounters—think of hydrogen nuclei in stars fusing into helium, or matter and antimatter meeting and annihilating into energy, or a mother and father reproducing to form a child, but losing sperm and an egg as a result—is itself filled with love, and thus the joy that springs from it.

Hence we read in The Book of the Law, “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.” (AL 2:9.)

Of course, it feels difficult, and oftentimes outright impossible, to actually experience things in such a way. I do not simply wake up in the morning and feel my heart jump with joy. I do not see a dog turd on the sidewalk and, strange though it may be to most, feel a deep, transcendental love for it. (Though, I wonder, does the true mystic, or magus?) And I certainly don’t experience joy in my suffering: I can’t imagine that I could be getting my hand sawed off and think to myself, well, this is just joyful! (Though does the adept, or the master of the temple—at least in their own way, or at least in part?)

In his commentary on Liber AL, Crowley explains the previously quoted passage in an interesting way:

“The Universe is a Puppet-Play for the amusement of Nuit and Hadit in their Nuptials; a very Midsummer Night’s Dream. So then we laugh at the mock woes of Pyramus and Thisbe, the clumsy gambols of Bottom; for we understand the Truth of Things, how all is a Dance of Ecstasy. “Were the world understood, Ye would know it was good, a Dance to a lyrical measure!” The nature of events must be “pure joy;” for obviously, whatever occurs is the fulfilment of the Will of its master. Sorrow thus appears as the result of any unsuccessful – therefore, ill-judged –struggle. Acquiescence in the order of Nature is the ultimate Wisdom.”

Nuit, of course, is infinite space (though one may easily argue She also represents other things, as well); and Hadit may, in one sense, be described as the true, inner, or atomic “self,” the infinitesimal locus at the center of a being or inanimate thing’s personal universe (though one may argue He also represents other things, as well): their “play” or interaction must be a form of love, if we go by Crowley’s definition of love as a form of coming into and achieving union. The self or or essence of a thing, representing a point in space, or rather a “point-event,” comes into contact with the infinity surrounding it, and produces a third phenomenon. Love begetting joy, according to Crowley, and the universe subsisting on countless interactions we may describe as love, existence is thus pure joy.

Additionally, if we observe the phrase “whatever occurs is the fulfilment of the Will of its master,” and we apply this concept to the totality of existence, we find that there can be no event that is not a part of the will of the universe. All is as it is, and all must be as it must be, and all becomes as it should (note this is not an ethically prescriptive “should”) based on what has gone before it—that is, based on cause and effect, or what one may describe as karma.

And indeed, “Acquiescence in the order of nature”—in so many words acceptance of things as they are.

Before I developed an interest in Thelema I was very much interested in Zen Buddhism. (I still am, though I’ll admit that these days I’m mostly focused on Qabalah and Western esotericism.) And now I am reminded, thinking of such acceptance, of a Zen proverb:

“If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.” That’s how it goes.

Yes: whether you understand or not, why not accept things just as they are? Do not struggle to “get” it, just be here.

Speaking of Zen, one of the most interesting books I read on the topic was The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery (published 1973), a memoir by Dutch writer and traveler Janwillem van de Wettering. The book recounts the author’s stay in a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery, and some of his experiences engaging in long periods of meditation.

Anyway, to get back to the topic of dog turds, the passage I recall best from the book was one about a feces. In the book, van de Wettering explains that after long periods of silent meditation his perception of moment-to-moment life begins to change, and he starts to know joy through normal experience.

“It is irritating, annoying, to be shut up all the time, to be unable to talk, not to be able to say: “Here I am, I have experienced something, I have thought of something, I believe I know something, I understand something, please listen to me.” What irritated me most, I think, was that nobody wanted to listen to me when I discovered that meditation, even the blundering sort of meditation I was engaged in, led to new experiences with colour and shape. I noticed that when I walked through the temple garden, the observation of bits of moss on rocks, or a slowly moving goldfish, or reeds swaying with the wind, led to ecstasy.

By losing myself in the colours and shapes around me I seemed to become very detached, an experience which I had known before, in Africa, after using hashish. The feeling wasn’t only caused by observing, being aware of, “beautiful” things, such as goldfish or pieces of moss; a full dustbin or dogshit with flies around it led to exactly the same result.”

This makes me wonder if my malaise, my lack of joy, is the result of too little meditation—or perhaps too little magick. (I’d argue much of magick is a kind of meditation, though after another manner.) After all, if it worked for van de Wettering, why shouldn’t it work for me? “Practice makes perfect,” as they say. And philosophical conjecture can only do so much. Perhaps the best way forward is to simply try, to practice.

Indeed, it’s unlikely that one could simply think one’s way into what Crowley described as the Trance of Love—though I will say that there are claims that Qabalists who contemplate their art long enough may either go mad or reach a mystical trance, especially (supposedly) by ruminating over gematria. (I’ve only heard this once or twice before, so please don’t take it as gospel.)

Laughter, too, is often a product of joy, and Crowley describes a Trance of Laughter in Little Essays Toward Truth.

Crowley places a good deal of emphasis on this particular trance, one which he calls the Vision of the Universal Joke, stating that it is central to the career of the adept.

He first compares the adept, and perhaps by extension the average person, to a victim of war or execution, and then, interestingly enough, a child playing:

“In this Trance he accepts fully the Formula of Osiris, and in the act transcends it; the spear of the Centurion passes harmlessly through his heart, and the sword of the Executioner strikes idly on his neck. He discovers that the Tragedy of which so many centuries have made such a case is but a farce for children’s pleasure. Punch is knocked down only to get up grinning with his gay “Root-too-too-tit! Here we are again!” Judy, the Beadle, the Hangman and the Devil are merely the companions of his playtime.”

The Formula of Osiris, in Crowley’s thought, corresponds to the aeon of the same name, and conceives of humanity as subject to death, perceiving the universe as being ruled over by a dying god, and dependent on the idea of resurrection as a form of maintenance for the continuation of life. However, in the Vision of the Universal Joke the adept transcends this notion of being subject to the cycle of birth-life-death-resurrection and perceives himself eternal.

Pertinently, Crowley wrote in the The Vision and the Voice (published 1911), “The Thelemite does not ‘suffer death.’ He is eternal and perceives Himself the Universe by virtue of the categories of Life and Death, which are not real but subjective forms of his artistic presentation.”

The universe as pure being, the Yod of Tetragrammaton, is, of course, eternal, and can never die. We as individuals being expressions of that—Alan Watts would describe us as being waves that flow out of and retreat back into the ocean of the cosmos—we can never truly die, for in essence we are one and eternal.

And what can one do, perceiving this, but laugh?

Furthermore, to perceive all sorrow and suffering as the mere blunders of a romp in one’s playpen, to distance oneself from suffering in such a way that it appears to be a necessary component of joy, makes for a grand joke, one whose punchline spans the whole universe.

Crowley wrote:

“So, since (after all) the facts which he thought tragic are real enough, the essence of his solution is that they are not true, as he thought, of himself; they are just one set of phenomena, as interesting and as fatuously impotent to affect him as any other set. His personal grief was due to his passionate insistence on contemplating one insignificant congeries of Events as if it were the sole reality and importance in the infinite mass of Manifestation.”

This reminds me of Buddhism, in a certain way: to distance suffering from the notion of self, to regard oneself as not harmed by suffering, is in essence to regard the self as either aloof to the extent that it is beyond conditioned reality, and therefore unconditioned, or non-existent, and therefore one with the Absolute itself. Compare the concept of adi-Buddha, important in the Vajrayana tradition especially.

It furthermore reminds me of Stoicism, an ancient Greco-Roman philosophical tradition which teaches indifference to suffering and the pursuit of virtue.

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been,” wrote Stoic philosopher and emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius in his diary, what would become a famous work known as the Meditations.

His Meditations also provides this wisdom:

“Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not “This is misfortune,” but “To bear this worthily is good fortune.””

Indeed, much of suffering—at least emotional suffering—has to do with perspective and the way we think. That’s why, as I have experienced, many psychologists and therapists practice cognitive behavioral therapy as a form of intervention. This is a practice which attempts to alter one’s cognitive biases and distortions in order to mould the patterns taken on by thought processes so that they become healthy and stable.

Anyway, Crowley continues:

“It is thus that the Perception of the Universal Joke leads directly to the Understanding of the Idea of Self as conterminous with the Universe, and at the same time one with it, creator of it, and aloof from it; which Triune State is, as is well known, one of the most necessary stages of Samadhi.”

Observe this trinity of self: self as unified with the universe, self as creator of the universe, and self as transcending the universe.

First of all, if one’s self is the universe, and the universe itself contains both all suffering and all joy (as it contains all conscious beings capable of experiencing such states), how can it truly suffer? (It is, after all, an unintelligent universe, as far as we can tell, and one in some state of equilibrium.)

Secondly, if self creates the universe, it is necessarily the maintainer of it, and has power over it. How can that which has power over a thing allow that thing to harm it?

Lastly, if self transcends the universe, it is beyond the conditions which cause suffering in the first place.

This all makes me think of aloofness or indifference, that the aspirant needs to grasp a kind of uncaring attitude in order to move beyond the throes of pain and suffering so entrenched in our world. And, indeed, Crowley writes of a Trance of Indifference:

“The state of mind which is characterised by Indifference is commonly called Trance, but the misnomer is unfortunate. It is, in fact, in a sense the precise contrary of a Trance; for Trance usually implies Samadhi, and this state specifically excludes any such occurrence. That implies a uniting, and thus a willed dissociation…

The general idea of the state is that the mind should react automatically to each and every impression: “It does not matter whether the Event be ay or nay.” Blavatsky observes that the feeling is at least tinged with disgust. But this is an error; such a state is imperfect. There should, on the contrary, be a quite definite joy, not in the impression itself but in being indifferent to it. This joy springs doubtless from the sense of power involved; but that is again an imperfection; one should rather rejoice in the cognizance of the ultimate truth that “existence is pure joy,” not in any feeling more immediate.”

The Vision of the Universal Joke is samadhic in nature, according to Crowley, and he states in Little Essays that the Trance of Indifference is inferior to a state of samadhi, taking less technical skill to achieve. However, he notes it is not without merit, as, as we read, it leads to joy. Yet the trances, while they free us from suffering to some extent or another, are definitely different in character.

The Vision of the Universal Joke, for one, relies on the aspirant identifying the self with a transcendent state unified with and yet beyond the universe, and at the same time the generator of the universe, essentially making self a panentheistic God.

This differs from the Trance of Indifference, which relies on analyzing phenomena in a way that they are not given value. That is to say, value judgments are stopped altogether.

A good practice for achieving this end may be Crowley’s Class D Liber Jugorum, described as “An instruction for the control of speech, action, and thought.”

Perhaps more difficult, but still useful, may be Liber Turris vel Domus Dei, described as “An instruction for attainment by the direct destruction of thoughts as they arise in the mind.”

Also consider the Trance of Beatitude, or the Beatific Vision, a state in which beauty is perceived in all things. There are two forms of this vision, according to Crowley: one form, the lower, pertains to Tiphereth, and the other, higher vision pertains to Kether, and the grade of Ipsissimus. However, Crowley states that the higher form of this vision has “never been described in detail,” and he instead focuses on the lower form.

Crowley wrote:

“Let us then occupy ourselves with the lower form of this Vision (so called; it is not technically a Vision at all) which pertains to Tiphareth, and is thus the natural grace of the Minor Adept. It may be said at once that those who have attained to higher grades, especially those above the Abyss, can hardly return to this Vision. For it implies a certain innocence, a certain defect of Understanding which is not possible to a Master of the Temple. Again, the Grades of Exempt and Major Adept are too energetic to admit of the balanced quietude of this state.

Only in the centre of the Tree of Life, only in the self-poised security of the Solar Axis, can we expect to find the steady indifference to Event which is the basis of the Trance, and that Ontogenous radiance which tinges it with Rose and Gold.”

Indeed, we know that Tiphereth is the heart of the Tree of Life, its center corresponding to the Sun in its effulgence. And Tiphereth, of course, means “beauty.” Yet Tiphereth is not the crown of the Tree, and so it cannot represent full attainment and understanding, as exalted of a state as it provides.

“In fact, it may be surmised that the Vision arises not from any given action but rather from a subtle suspension of action,” Crowley goes on. “The conflict of events has ended happily in a state of serenely perfect balance, in which, though energy continues to manifest, its issues have become without significance. We may compare the condition with the return of health of a fever-stricken man. The alternation of pyrexia and subnormal temperatures has subsided; he forgets gradually to consult the thermometer at the accustomed intervals, become absorbed instinctively in his regular pursuits. At the same time he is not longer aware of the hot and cold spells, but half consciously of the quiet glow of health. Similarly in this vision all conscious magical effort ceases, although the practices are continued with all customary diligence, and the whole of the Adepts’s impressions, internal as external, are suffused with the glow of beauty and delight. The state is in many respects closely akin to that sought by the smoker of opium; but it is natural and requires no artificial regulation.”

Tiphereth being located in the middle pillar of the Tree of Life, it is balanced in a way that the sephiroth on the pillars of mercy and severity are not. It is also at the center of the tree, and from it branches a number of paths connecting a number of sephiroth. It thus maintains a state of equilibrium and openness that the other sephiroth don’t. It seems that staying in this consciousness of equilibrium, the aspirant or adept eases into a state of routine joy, perceiving beauty in all things, working their way through life and routine with the least of conscious effort.

I think, reading this, of the Taoist concept of wu wei, or effortless action, action which flows without resistance—action that exists in harmony with the way of things and nature itself. (That is, in harmony with the Tao.) This analysis makes sense, as the Tao, according to the tables of Liber 777, flows from Kether, which connects along the path of Gimel directly to Tiphereth.

Lastly, let’s take a look at what Crowley writes of what he calls the Trance of Wonder:

“A little more than kin, and less than kind” are the Trance of Sorrow, and the Vision of the Machinery of the Universe; this latter being the technical aspect of the Apprehension of the Law of Change, which is also a Trance of the same order as that of Sorrow. Now one mode of victory over all these is the Trance of Indifference, in which one stands aloof from the whole matter; but it is only one mode, and (in the generally known form) full of falsehood and imperfection. For to stand aloof is to affirm duality, which is itself the root of Sorrow. To obtain the highest one must unite oneself with all things, partake of all as a true Sacrament. And this motion leads to the Trance of Wonder.”

Indeed, to be indifferent to something is still to say, in effect, “I am separate from this thing,” and as we know, duality is the basis of suffering—for if there is self and other, there is a self to suffer because of that other. Yet if self becomes one with other, there is no self to suffer and no other to cause suffering.

“The Trance of Wonder arises naturally—it is the first movement of the mind—from the final phrase of the Oath of a Master of the Temple, “I will interpret every phenomenon as a particular dealing of God with my soul,”” wrote Crowley. “For, immediately the Understanding illuminates the darkness of knowledge, every fact appears in its true guise miraculous.

It is so: then, how marvellous that it should so be!”

I have sometimes, in the past especially, had moments when I found myself marvelling at the complex intricacies of everything, the very fact that all things are so interdependent and that the universe is so vast and that yet, at the same time, everything breaks down into something so infinitesimal. In those moments the whole of the cosmos appeared to be incredible. I wonder now, reading Crowley’s description of this trance, whether I was marvelling at the world or really, ultimately amazed at myself.

Because, after all, what’s the difference?

And, if everything is awe-inspiring, and oneself is no different than this awe and the world that begets it, what other response can spring forth but an eagerness to partake in the very sacrament of existence, to adventure into the endless and incredible universe, the jeweled palace of space and time?

Trances and meditations, contemplations and methods of achieving joy—mystics and hierophants both alive and long gone have told us of these things. But as much as we may doubt them or their efforts, there’s no real way to know whether they’re right or wrong without trying our hand at their ways. I will be the first to admit that I’m easily distracted, disorganized, sporadic, and lazy: it’s difficult for me to form a routine. But every day I wake up and remind myself of the need to accomplish the Great Work, and with that intent in my heart I go through life with the aspiration toward joy and strength. As much as I’ve suffered in my life, as much as day to day toils have thrashed me and allowed me to trash myself, I know there is a way out and through the all-too-real abyss of emotional turmoil and into a higher life characterized by beauty and wonder and love and joy and solemn indifference to the impermanent woes of that too often befall us. 

Ideally, the Thelemite is to be filled with joy, alive and “Thrill with the joy of life and death!” (Liber AL 2:66.) In this essay we’ve read about some of the states which lead to such thrill and joy—though, of course, what’s left is the long, hard road to mould ourselves into beings capable of perceiving this joy in ourselves and in the world, despite the suffering which in reality plagues our universe.

We may wander the gray land of the Qliphoth, caught up in our own pain and confusion. However, as much dross as we contain, we may do away with it and see a diamond mind shine through. As much lead as we are we may transmute ourselves into pure gold.

Now none of this is a call for Thelemites to be indifferent to the pain of others: we ought to work to free others from the tyranny which thwarts their wills to life and joy and beauty. However, we can work compassion in this world while not allowing the sting of life to be quite so potent that it strikes us down. We can stand tall and stalwart against the battering waves of life, and learn joy despite the agony which surrounds us.

Perhaps I’m a fool, and you may call me one if you like. Yet I really believe one can learn true happiness, real ecstasy, even in Hell. The power and ingenuity of the human spirit promises it. The true will must lead to it. Darkness surrounds us but, with the right sort of eyes, one can see that the universe is pure light, and that the effulgence of the Unknown Crown shines through all shadow and doubt and pain, eternally and everywhere.