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

Monday, March 19, 2012

That’s What He Said: Crowley on Skepticism

Announcing a new feature on this blog: “That’s What He Said” – an article (or, hopefully, a series of articles) looking at what Aleister Crowley said about a variety of issues.
Crowley is so little read and so poorly understood by many people calling themselves Thelemites that the purpose of this series is to bring together the disparate threads of his thoughts and elucidate his writings on matters on which he was consistent and emphatic across the decades of his career.
I’d like to turn today to the topic of skepticism (who would have guessed, eh?). While most Thelemites admit – sometimes begrudgingly – that Crowley advocated skepticism, a good deal of them seem to be under the impression that Crowley only expected “students” to begin from a skeptical position and to discard skepticism as they gained more experience and could “prove to themselves” that the supernatural was real.
Take, for example, this line from the Wikipedia entry on Thelema (retrieved March 19, 2012): “Crowley taught skeptical examination of all results obtained through meditation or magick, at least for the student.” In the final phrase of this quote, we see the author attempting to salvage belief in the supernatural from Crowley’s system: the implication is that Crowley must have thought that skepticism was just fine for the student (oh, those poor profane fools who have yet to acquire experience!), but for those who have done the work and “experienced” the supernatural (that is, gotten warm and fuzzies in the belly, encountered ooky-spooky coincidences, or had daydreams about being on an episode of Tales from the Crypt)…for those folks, they can rest assured in the fact that they’ve proven (“to them,” of course) that the supernatural is real. That must be what Crowley was saying. Right?
The above interpretation of Crowley is completely and totally off-base, rooted not in the words of the man himself but in the desires and fantasies of the person doing the interpreting, who reads into those words things that aren’t there.
Read on for a very full explanation.