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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

That’s What He Said II: Distorting Influences of the Mind

The only way to discover the True Will is to observe it free from the distorting influences of the mind.
Some people object to such an absolute statement, protesting that there might be more than one “valid” way of discovering the True Will: yet none of these objectors are capable of explaining how some other method actually works. Many and varied are the egalitarian dimwits who think that discovering the True Will is simply a process of performing rote rituals conceived by Victorian-era freemasons or by medieval magicians. Take, for example, a recent post on the Temple of Thelema Forums, in which a newcomer asks, referring to the Abramelin operation and to the process of "Knoweldge and Conversation," a metaphor Crowley uses for discovering the True Will:

Has anyone developed a workable method to achieve K&C that doesn't involve a month of secluded free time?

The very notion that knowledge of one’s own nature is only available to people who perform an elaborate and complicated regimen of prayers is downright ridiculous: yet people new to Thelema consistently think that “discovering the True Will” is a matter of performing rituals. Their misunderstanding is due both to the individuals themselves failing to read and comprehend Crowley and to the sorry nature of Thelemic teachers in these matters. [Edit: To his credit, Jim Eshelman does tell the poster that there are other methods of attaining, but they all seem to revolve around a different regimen of prayers, organized differently so as to allow normal activity during the day]
Indeed, the only way to discover the True Will is to observe it free from the distorting influences of the mind. This fact necessitates that discovery of the True Will requires a thorough understanding of those distorting influences. As Erwin Hessle wisely says in his important Fundamentals of Thelemic Practice,

The mind must, in short, be trained to become aware of the particular ways in which it colours, influences and distorts perception. It is not sufficient to merely obtain a general knowledge of the ways in which the mind may do this; it must become able to identify the specific ways in which it does this itself, and ultimately able to detect when it is doing this in real time.

“Magick,” rituals, meditation, divination, and all the rest are – at best – actions that can aid an individual in preparing for the work of observing the distorting influences of the mind and observing the self free from them. [Note: this does not mean that the distorting influences go away, merely that the aspirant learns to see through them] Practices such as these train the mind in paying attention, in thinking about situations more broadly and free of mental preference so that it is the preferences of the True Self – in conjunction with an accurate perception of the environment – that dictate action.

This is all well and good, but what did Crowley have to say on these subjects? Is it the case that the “Thelema” explained above is actually some kind of materialist philosophy that has hijacked the word “Thelema”? Or is it that the method outlined above arises from a fair reading of Crowley’s words?
I think we all know the answer to this question. Crowley wrote frequently about the necessity of perceiving the True Will free from the distorting influence of the mind, and it is the purpose of this blog post to examine some of the more prominent quotes from Crowley on the subject.

Unlike some Thelemic commentators who simply post a wall of Crowley quotes without explanation (or very little explanation) – and unlike some dolts who think that serious discussion of Crowley should reduced to lists of quotations so that seekers can “find their own answers” – readers will observe that this post carefully examines and closely reads these quotations, placing them in the framework outlined above, outlined also in the post Skeptical of the True Will, and used to explicate the practices detailed in Erwin’s Fundamentals of Thelemic Practice.

Read on for very much more.

Our first exhibit comes from Crowley’s Confessions, chapter 63. Crowley is describing a bullfight he attended at Burgo de Osma, and he reports a sensation of being free from the emotions (emphasis mine in this and all quotes to follow):

There was no excitement and no disgust for me. I had reached a spiritual stage in which Sanna --- pure perception --- had ousted Vedana --- sensation --- I had learnt to look on the world without being affected by events. I was able to observe what went on as few people can, for the average man's senses are deceived by his emotions. He gets things out of proportion and he exaggerates them even when he is able to appreciate them at all. I made up my mind that it should be an essential part of my system of initiation to force my pupils to be familiar with just those things which excite or upset them, until they have acquired the power of perceiving them accurately without interference from the emotions. It is all a branch of the art of concentration, no doubt; but it is one which has been very much neglected, and it is of supreme importance when the aspirant arrives at the higher levels, where it is a question of "making no difference between any one thing and any other thing", and uniting oneself with each and every possible idea. For as long as anything soever escapes assimilation there remains separateness and duality, or the potentiality of such. Evil can only be destroyed by "love under will"; and so long as it is feared and hated, so long as we insist on attributing a real and irreconcilable existence to it, so long will it remain evil for us. The same of course applies to what we call "good". Good is itself evil in so far as it is separate from other ideas.

The first thing to observe here is that Crowley is emphatic that senses can be deceived by the emotions, which distort impressions (that is, “gets things out of proportion and[…] exaggerates them”). Obviously, we should note that such distortions could also include minimizing or overlooking perceptions just as easily, even though Crowley doesn’t mention that here.

The ability to “perceive accurately without intereference from [the distorting influence of] the emotions” is, according to Crowley, “an essential part of [his] system.” This “system” is clearly Thelema, since Crowley goes on to continue explaining himself with no less than two quotations from The Book of the Law.
We will return to “love under will” later: for now, I’d like to focus on Crowley’s claim that this “branch of the art of concentration” he has been describing (that is, perceiving accurately, apart from those distorting influences) is “of supreme importance when the aspirant arrives at the higher levels,” in which the quotation from AL I:22 is applicable. Crowley is talking about the “higher levels” of the grade 8=3 and up, but we should not assume that this practice is *only* important for someone of such high attainment. Crowley’s words clearly indicate that the practice is important (no less than “an essential part of [his] system”) and that it becomes of supreme importance as moves to the “higher levels.”

Turning to Crowley’s New Comment to AL I:22, we see immediately the relevance of the quotation for this topic: “we are not to oppose resistance to the perfect fluidity of the "Becoming" of Nature. Similarly, we are not to attach more importance to any one momentary appearance than to any other.”
It is precisely the emotions that distort one’s impressions of reality by “attach[ing] more importance” to one part of reality than another: to use the language from The Confessions, it is the emotions that prompt one to attach more importance to one part of reality and thus “exaggerate” it.

The implications for Thelema are obvious: such an emotionally exaggerated portion of reality starts to seem like an ideal – either “Good” or “Evil” – quite apart from whether or not the actual inclinations of the individual lead one toward it or away from it.
Thus, one might emotionally exaggerate – attach more importance to – the quality of compassion and start to believe that it is inherently “good” or “virtuous” to help people (whether or not one actually, authentically wishes to do so). Someone who exaggerates reality in this way will be led astray from his True Will because he allows his mind (specifically, that portion of his mind called his “emotions”) to distort his impressions of reality.

In Book 4, Part II, the example of the bull fight appears again, in a discussion of the Sword, a magical weapon that represents the mind. Crowley’s discussion – appropriately enough – focuses on the necessity of training the mind to perceive apart from the distorting influence of the emotions:

But it is too much to expect of the young Magician to practice attachment to the distasteful; let him first become indifferent. Let him endeavour to see facts as facts, as simply as he would see them if they were historical. Let him avoid the imaginative interpretation of any facts. Let him not put himself in the place of the people of whom the facts are related, or if he does so, let it be done only for the purpose of comprehension. Sympathy, indignation, praise and blame, are out of place in the observer.

Crowley continues, with his characteristic sense of humor:

No one has properly considered the question as to the amount and quality of the light afforded by candles made by waxed Christians.

Who has any idea which joint of the ordinary missionary is preferred by epicures? It is only a matter of conjecture that Catholics are better eating than Presbyterians.

Yet these points and their kind are the only ones which have any importance at the time when the events occur.


Very few people have ever "seen" a bull-fight.

One set of people goes for excitement, another set for the perverse excitement which real or simulated horror affords. Very few people know that blood freshly spilled in the sunlight is perhaps the most beautiful colour that is to be found in nature.

It is a notorious fact that it is practically impossible to get a reliable description of what occurs at a spiritualistic "seance;" the emotions cloud the vision.

Only in the absolute calm of the laboratory, where the observer is perfectly indifferent to what may happen, only concerned to observe exactly what that happening is, to measure and to weigh it by means of instruments incapable of emotion, can one even begin to hope for a truthful record of events. Even the common physical bases of emotion, the senses of pleasure and pain, lead the observer infallibly to err. This though they be not sufficiently excited to disturb his mind.

There are a few noteworthy points here. First, Crowley not only mentions the bullfight (his occasion for similar remarks in The Confessions) but notes that few people have “seen” one. The scare quotes around “seen” imply that while many people have physically looked upon bullfights, the vast majority of these people look through the lens of their (clouded and distorted) emotional reaction to the event. As such, it’s impossible for these people to really see a bullfight: they’re too busy watching the imaginary bullfight in their heads (to use Crowley’s language above, they’re not paying attention to facts but to imaginary interpretation of facts).
Second, we see Crowley at the end of this passage endorse objectively evaluating reality, noting that only in a laboratory – with controls in place to prevent self-deception – can errors in perception be corrected as much as is possible. Such remarks may be considered quite a blow to the ideas of those who mistakenly think Crowley to be some kind of credulous new age dunce.

What the above quotes have thus far established is that Crowley understood that the mind has distorting tendencies and he endeavored to get students to perceive reality accurately, a technique of concentration both essential to his system and of “supreme importance” to the “higher levels” of attainment. This language, by itself, is enough for us to make the slight leap to the conclusion that perceiving accurately is necessary to discover the True Will: if, after all, accurate perception is an “essential part” of Thelema, and if Thelema concerns itself at its core with the discovery of the True Will, then such accurate perception could not be other than the means of discovering the True Will.
But, as it turns out, we don’t need to make any kind of tiny leap at all. Crowley explicitly tells us that the True Will is found by perceiving it free from such distorting influences. Let’s turn to Liber Samekh, the ritual that Crowley himself used to attain Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (a phrase that is but a metaphor for discovering the True Self, the preferences of which comprise the True Will). At first, a reader might think I’m contradicting myself. Didn’t I say earlier that it’s not necessary to do rituals to come to an understanding of one’s nature?

The apparent contradiction vanishes when one looks at what Crowley says the ritual actually does:

the Adept will be free to concentrate his deepest self, that part of him which unconsciously orders his true Will, upon the realization of his Holy Guardian Angel. The absence of his bodily, mental and astral consciousness is indeed cardinal to success, for it is their usurpation of his attention which has made him deaf to his Soul, and his preoccupation with their affairs that has prevented him from perceiving that Soul.

Here, Crowley says that the “bodily, mental, and astral” consciousness have usurped the attention of the magician in daily life, such that he is “deaf to his Soul’ (i.e. the True Self, the Holy Guardian Angel, the dynamic aspect of which is the True Will). By “kee[ing] them so busy with their own work in this ritual that they cease to distract him,” the magician is no longer “preoccupied with their affairs” and is thus free to perceive this True Self (and thus the True Will).
The connection is strengthened when Crowley gives an example of such preoccupation with something other than the Will:

If the Adept is to be any wise conscious of his Angel it must be that some part of his mind is prepared to realise the rapture, and to express it to itself in one way or another. This involves the perfection of that part, its freedom from prejudice and the limitations of rationality so-called. For instance: one could not receive the illumination as to the nature of life which the doctrine of evolution should shed, if one is passionately persuaded that humanity is essentially not animal, or convinced that causality is repugnant to reason. The Adept must be ready for the utter destruction of his point of view on any subject, and even that of his innate conception of the forms and laws of thought.

Note the use of the phrase “passionately persuaded.” We’re back in the realm of emotion distorting impressions by exaggerating their importance. Here, in Crowley’s example, an individual’s emotional impression of the universe – a “passionate” resistance to the idea that humans and apes share a common ancestor, a misguided exaggeration of the importance of humans in relation to animals – leads the individual to overlook the truth suggested by evidence. In a similar way, individuals’ distorting emotions can lead them to overlook the truth of their nature (True Will), as suggested by evidence. Just as a man of science must always be prepared for his favorite pet theory to be destroyed by an impartial analysis of the evidence, so too must a man of Will be prepared for his conceptions of himself to crumble in the face of evidence: perhaps he is not the brave, trustworthy, and slick individual that his mind “passionately” believes him to be. Until one is capable of perceiving the Soul, free from these distorting influences, one cannot know.
It’s worth noting also that Crowley does not say that the mind needs to be free from “reason,” but from “rationality so-called.” He is most emphatically not talking about the reasoning faculty but rather that which is called reason, the rational “because” statements that can lead one astray from the True Will (Hence, Liber AL’s curse upon “Because”: see this post for more details).

As Crowley emphatically states in Magick in Theory and Practice, “One can not do one's True Will intelligently unless one knows what it is.” Indeed, discovering this will – in contrast to the distorting influences produced by the mind – is the essence of magick, the heart of Thelema:

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.

Note the use of “fondly” and “imagined,” words denoting distorting mental activity reminiscent of the kinds of distortion spoken of earlier. There is, one has to admit, a remarkable amount of consistency in Crowley’s language on this subject.
What is clear from our review of Liber Samekh is that it is not the performing of the ritual that enables the aspirant to discover the True Will – it is the process of perceiving the Soul free from distorting influences that does so: “Liber Samekh” is but one potential means of training the mind to do this.

With this in mind, let us turn to another important Thelemic ritual, Liber V vel Reguli, a ritual designed “to invoke the Energies of the Aeon of Horus.” And, of course, since Horus represents the True Self and thus the True Will, invoking these energies is nothing less than invoking the force of the True Will.
After the text of the ritual itself, Crowley appends a short essay that gives an “impression of the ideas” contained in the ritual. Here, we find the familiar language of confronting reality free from distorting influences:

The Magician should devise for himself a definite technique for destroying "evil." The essence of such a practice will consist in training the mind and the body to confront things which cause fear, pain, disgust, shame and the like. He must learn to endure them, then to become indifferent to them, then to become indifferent to them, then to analyze them until they give pleasure and instruction, and finally to appreciate them for their own sake, as aspects of Truth. When this has been done, he should abandon them, if they are really harmful in relation to health and comfort.

This is all straightforward enough, and it reiterates the main idea of the passage from “The Sword” we saw earlier.
Crowley continues to point out that accurate understanding of the universe cannot be had if one views it through the lens of the mind’s distorting influence:
Crime, folly, sickness and all such phenomena must be contemplated with complete freedom from fear, aversion, or shame. Otherwise we shall fail to see accurately, and interpret intelligently; in which case we shall be unable to outwit and outfight them. Anatomists and physiologists, grappling in the dark with death, have won hygiene, surgery, prophylaxis and the rest for mankind. Anthropologists, archæologists, physicists and other men of science, risking thumbscrews, stake, infamy and ostracism, have torn the spider-snare of superstition to shreds and broken in pieces the monstrous idol of Morality, the murderous Moloch which has made mankind its meat throughout history. Each fragment of that coprolite it manifest as an image of some brute lust, some torpid dullness, some ignorant instinct, or some furtive fear shapen in his own savage mind.

Crowley’s point here is that those elements of existence normally seen as “bad” -- through a distorting lens -- need to be “see[n] accurately, and interpret[ed] intelligently.” The idea that “sickness,” in particular, needs to be seen accurately echoes the New Comment to AL II:59
We should indeed love all -- is not the Law "love under will"? By this I mean that we should make proper contact with all, for love means union; and the proper condition of union is determined by will. Consider the right attitude to adopt in the matter of cholera. One should love it, that is, study it intimately; not otherwise can one be sure of maintaining the right relation with it, which is, not to allow it to interfere with one's will to live. (And almost everything that is true of Cholera is true of Christians.)
We see here that Crowley says that “love” – in the Thelemic sense – means union, a “proper contact” directed by the will: such proper contact necessitates an accurate understanding of the objects of love. One cannot know how to prevent cholera from interfering with the will to live unless one is able to impartially study it: how one contracts it, what the symptoms are, etc. To consider cholera “evil” and refuse to learn anything about it is to fail to perceive it as it is. This can potentially interfere with the will.
By analogy, if one hysterically assumes that a bullfight is “bad” (or, conversely, assumes that it’s “cool”), one is not going to perceive it as it is and is thus not going to be able to tell whether one’s nature inclines one to go to one (or participate in one) or avoid one altogether. It is only by identifying the distorting influences of the mind that one can see accurately and interpret intelligently and therefore determine how one’s will is driving one to “love” the bullfight.
One cannot determine how to make “proper contact” with reality unless one is capable of perceiving reality and the True Self as free as possible from those tendencies of the mind that distort perception.
Crowley says near the end of Reguli:
This then in the virtue of the Magick of The Beast 666, and the canon of its proper usage; to destroy the tendency to discriminate between any two things in theory, and in practice to pierce the veils of every sanctuary, pressing forward to embrace every image; for there is none that is not very Isis.
So there we have it: this method of “destroy[ing] the tendency to discriminate” – which returns us to the language of AL I:22 – is “the virtue of the Magick of The Beast 666,” the very essence and heart of Thelema.
Remember, Crowley said in that extract we looked at that earlier:
Evil can only be destroyed by "love under will"; and so long as it is feared and hated, so long as we insist on attributing a real and irreconcilable existence to it, so long will it remain evil for us. The same of course applies to what we call "good". Good is itself evil in so far as it is separate from other ideas.
It is this process of refusing to discriminate between two things – that is, ameliorating the distorting influence of the mind – that enables love under will, and it destroys evil because “evil” can only exist by virtue of discriminating between things, regarding them as “other.” Note that Crowley says that “good” too is “evil” insofar as it becomes a static, ideal path, an “other” held up as objectively good, capable of distracting us from our true nature.
This notion of destroying evil and good is echoed numerous times in Crowley’s writings, particularly this chapter of Liber Aleph:
Understand then well this Mystery of Universal Godliness; for it is the naked Beauty of the Virgin of the World. Lo! Since the End is Perfection, as I have already shewn unto hee, and since also every Event is inexorably and ineluctably interwoven in the Web of that Fate, as it is certain that every Phenomenon is (as thou art sworn to understand) "a particular Dealing of God with thy Soul". Yea, and more also, it is a necessary Rubric in this Ritual of Perfection. Turn not therefore away thine Eyes, for that they are too pure to behold Evil; but look upon Evil with Joy, comprehending it in he Fervour of this Light that I have enkindled in thy Mind. Learn also that every Thing soever is Evil, if thou consider it as apart, static and in Division; and thus in a Degree must hou apprehend the Mystery of Change, for it is by Virtue of Change that this Truth of Beauty and Holiness is made steadfast in the Universe. O my son, there is no Delight sweeter than the continuous Contemplation of this Marvel and Pageant that is ever about thee; it is the Beatitude of the Beatitudes.

Notice here how Crowley weaves together the idea of every Event being a unique part of existence (no better or worse than any other, objectively), invoking the oath of the Master of the Temple (the 8=3 grade, for which Crowley earlier said that accurate perception was “of supreme importance”) and noting that evil (and good) are illusions that render the dynamic motion of the universe static, exaggerating the importance of some aspects of existence by means of the distorting influences of the mind that can lead one astray from the True Will.
In the course of this essay, I have deliberately limited myself to only a handful of related examples because the number of passages in which Crowley expresses ideas like these is vast. It is undeniable that this idea is fundamental to Crowley’s Thelema and to the discovery of the True Will.
It must be noted in conclusion that there is a certain form of ignoramus dumbass out there who says contemptibly stupid things like, “Oh, Los! You’re just giving half the story! Sure, you can cherry pick Crowley to sound like a secular philosopher whose Thelema involves gaining a specific understanding of the True Self apart from the distorting influences of the mind. But he was also a religious Thelemite, and he believed in supernatural things, and he did rituals to try to discover his will, and the Book of the Law has, like, gods and stuff! Aren’t you just cherry-picking Crowley?”
And the answer to the above, of course – once we’ve all finished pointing and laughing at the drooling imbecile who could actually think this – is that it’s not “cherry picking” to be intelligent and well-read enough to point out a central tenet of Crowley’s philosophy that runs through virtually all of his important works.
It’s irrelevant whether Crowley might have also been a supernaturalist or a religionist or anything else. The point I’m making is that when Crowley got down to explaining the practice of Thelema, the practice of discovering the will, the practice of love under will, he expressed himself in clear, consistent terms. Even when explaining rituals for obtaining Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA or Invoking the Energies of the Aeon of Horus – both metaphors for discovering and acting in accordance with the True Will – Crowley’s own description of the effects of these rituals emphasizes not anything supernatural but rather the prosaic psychological process that he explains throughout his work as fundamental to the practice of Thelema.
We can see now that the notion that one has to perform rituals or invoke superbeings in order to learn something about one’s true nature is utterly ridiculous, one not supported even by a reading of Crowley.
In fact, the only way to discover the True Will is to observe it free from the distorting influences of the mind.


  1. Irony is a system for perfect scepticism couched in the terms and practices of the 'old order' superstitions! "Abrogate are all rituals, all ordeals, all words and signs."

    'I found myself at a loss for a name to designate my work, just as H. P. Blavatsky some years earlier. "Theosophy", "Spiritualism", "Occultism", "Mysticism", all involved undesirable connotations.
    I chose therefore the name.
    as essentially the most sublime, and actually the most discredited, of all the available terms.
    I swore to rehabilitate
    to identify it with my own career; and to compel mankind to respect, love, and trust that which they scorned, hated and feared. I have kept my Word.'

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. NB: repost minus typing error!

    I think with Crowley his rational mind was such a sharp instrument, that he needed a way to "transcend the rational dullness of the mind". So magic (no 'k' here) for him was a great way to do that. For those of us who might perhaps not have such a keen faculty of reason, magic may not be the useful tool that it was to Crowley! However, as Los and Erwin have made abundantly clear, a careflu reading of Crowley shows the system for Thelemic attainment doesn't involve magic in the 'ooky spooky' sense at all.

  4. 1 of 3:

    Brad writes: "I think with Crowley his rational mind was such a sharp instrument, that he needed a way to "transcend the rational dullness of the mind"."

    I get the sense that for Crowley – who had a wacko religious upbringing with rigid ideas of “good” and “evil” – the prospect of pretending to be a wizard, committing blasphemy against the deity he had been taught to worship, invoking Satan (see Liber Samekh), etc., really got his motor running.

    For him, transgression of various cultural norms was the best way to break past his rigid conditioning and break down restriction of all kinds.

    I think that the traditional path of Western Ceremonial Magick can be an aid to attainment for a lot of people raised in the West. Then again, the practice of that path, no matter how useful, will not be sufficient for the vast majority of people.

    And that’s all well and good, until one of the dumber members of the so-called “magical community” starts in with the whole, “Oh, yes Los, your methods of observation of self are fine for Joe Average, but the few – oh, the few! – have been called to the Work of ceremonial magick!” and it’s all a fantasy circle-jerk where they delude themselves into thinking that just because *few* people are into it, that makes it *special* in some way. It’s not.

    Ceremonial magick is for “the few” in the same way that performing in a traveling circus is for “the few”: that is to say, a small number of people are into it. Naturally, they enjoy it, and more power to them, but it doesn’t make them objectively more special or somehow better than “Joe Average.” If anything, these occultist clowns are *more* likely to have a mistaken impression of themselves and the world around them, not less. This ironically makes “Joe Average” already farther along the path than these buffoons are.

  5. 2 of 3:

    The other thing about this “magical” language is that we use it for two main reasons: to convey the enormity of the attainment (or, the enormity of the subjective feeling of it, anyway) and to dissuade people from getting confused by the language and taking it too literally.

    As for the first reason, the *experience* of discovering the True Will (Knowledge and Conversation) is, without a doubt, of monumental importance to the individual: it’s life-changing and, more often than not, world-shattering for the individual.

    But a lot of people, if you describe it in its most basic, prosaic terms, just won’t comprehend that. For example, if you grab some random people you know in your daily life and you tell them that it’s important to distinguish between who they are and who they think they are, they will totally agree with you and also tell you that they can do this.
    They’ll appeal to platitudes like “Know Thyself” and “To thy own self be true,” and they’ll assume that they know themselves pretty well and tell you things like, “Yeah, I know – I act like a tough guy but I understand that deep down I can get scared and worried, just like everyone else.”

    But of course, they’re missing the point. They’re talking about some kind of general idea of fooling oneself – that they think they can more or less see through. But when we talk about attainment, we’re talking about figuring out *specifically* how one’s mind individually distorts impressions and then detecting one’s mind doing this in real time so that one can make real changes in behavior.

    For that reason, “self-knowledge” – which just about everyone mistakenly thinks they have – is actually a poor (and somewhat misleading) term for the attainment we’re talking about it. The actual experience of succeeding in this task is so life-changing and impresses the mind so much – a mind that may never have really paid attention to reality before – that a term like “Union with God” would be a lot more appropriate, if that term didn’t come loaded with a bunch of ridiculous supernatural baggage.

    This is the problem that Crowley had: you can’t just call it “self knowledge,” in the usually-understood sense of the term, and you can’t call it “Union with God,” in the usually-understood sense of the term, and the same is true with all of the other labels we could potentially slap on this experience (and which most philosophical and religious systems have developed language for talking about).

    So what was Crowley’s solution? He picked the silliest of the terms as a way of suggesting the enormity of the attainment and also dissuading aspirants from getting distracted by the label. Hence Crowley says:

    "’Let me declare this Work under this title: 'The obtaining of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel'’", because the theory implied in these words is so patently absurd that only simpletons would waste much time in analysing it. It would be accepted as a convention, and no one would incur the grave danger of building a philosophical system upon it.”

    Of course, we now know that Crowley was far too optimistic about the number of simpletons in the world. Internet occult forums and Thelema forums are swamped with people who think that the HGA is a real, honest-to-goodness supernatural being (along with nincompoops who encourage that kind of thinking by saying unhelpful things like, “From a certain point of view, there is no difference between an external being and an internal being!”).

  6. 3 of 3:

    Look at the post I cited above where the poor guy says, basically, “How am I ever going to discover my nature if I can’t seclude myself for a month and spend all my time practicing chastity and self-imposed dietary restrictions and then say lots of elaborate prayers at all hours of the day and then commune with a super being before conjuring up the demons of hell and making them swear allegiance to me? How is it even possible??!”

    It’s kind of like asking how one can learn to drive a car if one can’t seclude oneself for a month and devote all of one’s time to praying to the car gods.

    In principle, learning to drive a car and learning to discover the True Will are both pieces of procedural knowledge that one can slowly get better at over time. Learning both tasks is a matter of mastering basic skills and learning how to do them better and better: neither one has a single thing to do with prayers or superbeings, making the above questions absolute nonsense.

    But no one tells aspirants these kinds of things.

    I’m tempted to say that few people have “read” Crowley in the same way that he says few people have “seen” a bullfight: people “read” not the words in front of them but their own assumptions about the words in front of them, to the point that their conception of Crowley and his system diverges almost entirely from what the guy actually said.

    So, as a kind of roundabout way to address your comments, I’d say that the discrepancy you seem to find between Crowley’s skepticism and his use of magical language is less a discrepancy than it is a result of his attempt to confront the challenge of being understood. Crowley struggled to put his insights into the language of his own idiom – derived from Qabalah and Western Ceremonial Magick – both to convey the import of the ideas and also to guard against a foolish, literal interpretation of the idiom itself.

    Have a look at Liber II for more of an insight into the “curse” of having to speak and being destined to be misunderstood, and you’ll see exactly how aware Crowley was of this problem.

  7. Oh, oops. I just noticed that I wrote "Liber II" above when I meant "Liber I" (technically, "Liber B vel Magi sub Figura I").

    This is the text filled with verses like, "In the beginning doth the Magus speak Truth, and send forth Illusion and Falsehood to enslave the soul. Yet therein is the Mystery of Redemption."

    And, "For the curse of His grade is that He must speak Truth, that the Falsehood thereof may enslave the souls of men."

    My point is that Crowley was aware of this problem of having to speak and trying to be understood (and inevitably being misread).

  8. Thanks Los, very interesting posts! Always a pleasure to read. Look forward to many more, over the coming months and years. 93s