Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Video and Book of the Day: Sam Harris on Death and the Present Moment

I’ve just finished Sam Harris’ book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion. I highly recommend it, as it contains important insights both for materialists who would normally dismiss meditation/contemplation and for supernaturalists who mistakenly think that their inner experiences furnish evidence for metaphysical truths.

As Harris concisely and eloquently argues, attention to the details of our inner lives is of supreme importance to human beings. Learning to pay attention to consciousness gives us insights into the fact that consciousness by its nature lacks a self: that is to say, our felt sense that we are “separate” from our experiences is not true and isn’t even an illusion – because if one looks closely and carefully enough, that sense is not there to be found.
Harris points out that such attention loosens the shackles that our emotions place upon us (he points out, for instance, how it is impossible to remain angry for more than a few seconds if one is actually paying attention to the experience of the present moment, instead of continually manufacturing anger by rehearsing a mental story about grievances). He further argues that experiences of self-transcendence have ethical implications – and while Harris is not a Thelemite and does not use the jargon of Thelema (“True Will”), his observations that attention to the present moment naturally settles the clutter of one’s mental life can easily be appropriated in a Thelemic context. With a mind thus settled, an aspirant will find it easier, practically by definition, to perceive his or her authentic inclinations (i.e. “True Will”).

Harris also points out the logical flaws in using such inner experiences to justify metaphysical claims, exploring the evidence that indicates that minds arise from brains and investigating how physical changes to brains – including during near-death experiences and drug trips – can cause experiences that resemble trances that meditation can induce more gradually and safely. He also discusses how unscrupulous gurus can take advantage of people and justify this behavior with some of the insights generated by meditation.

Some of the ideas covered in this book – and a short guided meditation – are presented in a very interesting talk Harris gave about “Death and the Present Moment,” which you can view here.

I highly recommend both the video and the book.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gems from the Forums: Nuit and Hadit

Today’s “Gems” entry comes from a thread in which the original poster was confused about the symbol called “Hadit” in Thelema.

The poster’s question revolves around the fact that Hadit is in some senses “unmoved” and in other senses ever “going.” As the poster puts it: “Hadit is the ‘secret center’, the Hidden One, the distinctive ‘point of view.’ In buddhist and yogic practice, this is often referred to as ‘the witness,’ which is unbounded and unmodified by what it witnesses, and absolutely unmoved. Yet in Thelemic discussions, Hadit goes.”

In response to this interesting question, the poster got mostly unhelpful replies, including the ludicrous suggestion that Hadit is an “idea that transcends 4D space-time” and that we cannot “address Hadit adequately with such a logic that “relies on those finite definitions” of space and time.

Read on for my thoughts on this subject and my description of Nuit and Hadit.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On Liber V vel Reguli

Liber V vel Reguli – the “Book of the Princes” or “The Ritual of the Mark of the Beast” – is, in Crowley’s words, “an incantation proper to invoke the Energies of the Aeon of Horus, adapted for the daily use of the Magician of whatever grade."

On first glance, the ritual looks something like a “Thelemicized” version of the Supreme (aka Greater) Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram. On deeper inspection, this ritual is an enactment of Thelemic cosmology that functions by dramatizing the LAShTAL formula. It thus expands and deepens the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram as the Star Ruby does the LBRP.

The ritual is a symbolic means of saturating one’s consciousness in a “Thelemic” view of the world, as summarized in the word LAShTAL. It thus indeed “invoke[s] the Energies of the Aeon of Horus” in the truest sense of those words. No supernatural energies are stirred by this ritual: as in the LBRP and Star Ruby, the mechanism and effects are purely psychological. As Crowley put it in Magick in Theory and Practice, “The sincere student will discover, behind the symbolic technicalities of this book [i.e. behind the symbols of ritual magick], a practical method of making himself a Magician. The processes described will enable him to discriminate between what he actually is, and what he has fondly imagined himself to be.”

In what follows I examine the performance and function of Liber V by reading it against the essay Crowley appended to it.

You should consider reading my articles on the LBRP and the Star Ruby as preliminaries to this article.

If you intend to perform Liber V, I recommend a solid grounding in the standard pentagram rituals first and some significant experience with invoking.

Read on for more.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Gems from the Forums: The Benefits of Religion and Spirituality?

I’m reproducing below part of a conversation I had on Lashtal earlier this year. My interlocutor’s words are in italics, and mine appear below. The initial question he put to me was whether I think people are “lesser” simply because they “use religion or spirituality or even metaphysics and praeterhuman entities to better their thinking, to help them improve (even in their own minds), or even just to help them cope.”

As I go on to explain, such people are not “lesser” – in fact, the idea of “lesser” is an incoherent concept, especially in the context of Thelema – but the assumption of the question (that “spirituality,” broadly defined, actually does benefit people) needs to be questioned.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Experience Has No Explanatory Power

This post reproduces the first post I made on the Temple of Thelema forums a few years ago. Some readers may recall that I appeared on those forums with the intent of offering a perspective that differs from the supernaturalism typically pedalled there. Of chief importance to this new perspective is the simple fact that bare experience -- all by itself -- explains nothing because the process of explaining is a rational one.

It is rational thinking about experience that has explanatory power.

After a period of my participation in the forums there, the moderator made the decision to institute a new policy: that any post would be deleted unless it starts from the assumption "that we are spiritual beings." Since I do not begin from this assumption, I am functionally banned from participation at the Temple of Thelema forums [Importantly, it should be noted that I also do not begin from the assumption that "we are not spiritual beings"...I make no assumptions at all about this point]. This is a decision that is entirely within the scope of the moderator and website owner, and it is not a decision that I consider unfair at all. Every person with a website is entitled to have whatever kind of website he or she likes.

For some reason, the moderator also decided to delete the thread I started upon my arrival there (the thread that opens with the post I will reproduce below). So much for my making a dissenting point of view available on the forums, eh? As luck would have it, Google retained a cache of the thread for some weeks, and I was able to recover nearly all of the thread and save it for my records.

Over the next several months, I may -- as time and inclination see fit -- examine different parts of the conversation on that thread to explore the kinds of faulty thinking that underlie supernaturalism.

Read on for my initial post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Gems from the Forums: Is Thelema a Religion?

Here’s a short forum post from last year that discusses the ever-popular question of whether Thelema should be considered a religion.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Gems from the Forums: Moral Nihilism in Thelema

This post reproduces a forum post from several years ago in which I discuss moral nihilism and its relevance to Thelema.

At the end, I address two new objections to moral nihilism.
Further reading includes three excellent essays by Erwin Hessle on the subject of moral philosophy (link, link, and link).

Read on for more.