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

Saturday, February 9, 2013

By Their Fruitcakes Ye Shall Know Them....

There’s an interesting question that’s been asked on the Fruitcake Factory (aka The Temple of Thelema Forums) by one “Frater Potater,” who has recently tenured his resignation from Eshelman’s branch of the A.'.A.'. after learning that the organization is populated by a bunch of lunatics who believe a lot of bizarre nonsense, including apparently that they can send “healing energy” around the world in a manner essentially indistinguishable from a Christian prayer hotline.

Anyway, he started another thread there that poses an interesting question:
How exactly should we recognize someone who is a real master or adept vs. someone who is a charlatan or even a mere layman?

Read the thread here. Naturally, the thread has devolved into absurdity, with posters unable to address simple points and engaging instead in ridiculous semantic games about what “belief” means. Later in the thread, “Potater” goes on to give his answer to his own question:
On a superficial level, I'd say they [i.e. a “real master” or an “adept”] should at least be happy and well balanced individuals. They would be perfectly responsible and accountable. Self empowered, with a good sense of what they want for themselves, and how to achieve it. Neither pitying anyone, nor expecting to take advantage of others. They would be emotionally stable, and act appropriately in every circumstance. I am not saying that they would never experience any unforeseen turmoil, or not act as a human being would be expected to act under pressure, but that they would be able to compose themselves better than the average person. Knowing just how to judge each situation, against their will, and act accordingly.

You'd expect a master would have to have found practical ways of accomplishing these things to definite results, otherwise how could they speak that what they are following is their will? They must definitely know what their will is, with an unshakable sense of certainty, otherwise how will they know how to direct their efforts, or instruct others?

I think that people can definitely do this, without the use of supernatural or superstitious dogma.


I can't tell where worrying about magical powers, and believer scripts, is encouraging people to become adepts and masters. In fact, I can see a whole lot of potential pitfalls.

In this post, I’ll be looking at the idea of distinguishing an “initiated” person from a “non-initiated” person, discussing whether it’s possible, whether it’s useful at all, and what conclusions follow from it.

Read on for more.

First, we need to define our terms. For our purposes, the “initiated individual” or “adept” is one who has, according to the philosophy of Thelema, “attained” by discovering his or her True Will. As such, the individual is at a level of progress signified by the 5=6 degree in Crowley’s order, the A.’.A.’.  (which, for clarity’s sake, is not a terrestrial order – i.e. not a bunch of role-playing buffoons – but a symbolic way of talking about the “Order of Things” itself…”initiation” into this “order” is the gradual acquiescence into the order of things).
My initial thought on the matter is that it’s not possible to use behaviour to distinguish someone who has attained from someone who has not – at least not in the simplistic sense of observing how they act. Since we are defining “attainment” entirely in terms of discovering and carrying out the Will, the only person ever capable of judging such an attainment is the person in question.

Before exploring that point further, however, an important question needs to be asked: why would one want  to determine whether another person has “attained” or not in the first place? Since one can only ever accurately judge one’s own progress in such matters, a desire to evaluate the attainments of others is likely to descend quickly into attempting to label certain kinds of behaviours or reactions as “initiated.” Such labeling can easily lead one’s mind to generate thoughts that encourage one to emulate these behaviours instead of paying attention to the actual inclinations of one’s own Self. In this situation, attempting to judge someone else’s level of attainment lends itself to mental games that distract from one’s own attainment.
With that observation out of the way, we can quickly examine why, for the most part, behaviours provide almost no indication of attainment. There are virtually no behaviours necessarily more or less in accord with having discovered the True Will, and any and all actions may be in line with the True Will.

It’s also too vague to say that initiates will be “successful” in their endeavors because that word means many things to many people. It’s perhaps likely that initiates will be good at a lot of the things they do, but then again, lots of people could be good at things that aren’t part of their True Will, so this seems like a particularly poor marker. By the same token, one’s Will may involve activities that one isn’t necessarily good at, or it may involve gradually becoming better at an activity. In short, there’s no sure way to tell.
Similarly, “emotional balance,” while perhaps a better marker to use, still presents its share of problems Attaining to the True Will does involve escaping the control of the emotions and thoughts – or, more specifically, asserting the control of the Self over the mind/body complex that should be its tool/vehicle –  so we can probably safely say that someone who routinely has violent mood swings that he later regrets has not attained. Similarly, someone who is mostly idealistic, who clearly spends time absorbed in “moral” concerns disconnected from his life – say, spending time worrying about poverty on the other side of the world or working to end the abuse of animals everywhere, etc. – is overwhelmingly unlikely to have attained.

But at the same time, it is perfectly compatible with Mastery for an individual to have strong emotions and to act in ways consistent with those emotions. It is similarly compatible for individuals to prefer to live in a world that works in a certain way and to authentically desire to work to create a world like that. The difference is that the initiated person is not ruled by those emotions or thoughts, but uses emotion and thought as tools in the process of accomplishing his or her natural inclinations.
And naturally, it should go without saying that someone can be mature, balanced person and not be doing his or her True Will. Someone else on that Fruitcake Factory thread suggested that the signs of “mastery” include moving out of your parents’ house and getting laid at least once. Geez Louise…if that’s all it takes to be a master, then every single person I know is one. Talk about setting the bar low....
So, in all, it’s both very difficult to tell another’s level of attainment and totally irrelevant, except perhaps as a distraction.
But Frater Potater’s question wasn’t geared toward determining whether a specific individual is doing his or her will or not. If we look at the original context surrounding the point -- when it was raised on that other long thread he started -- his question was aimed at determining whether it’s a good idea to join up with a group like Temple of Thelema that claims to enable individuals to attain to their True Will. Or, to put it another way, his question was aimed at determining whether the Temple of Thelema does what it says on the tin. Or anything good at all.

If a group claims that it helps its members discover their True Wills, but member after member is a basketcase, an emotional trainwreck, or a loon who believes wacky things that any reasonable person would laugh long and hard at….what does that tell us? How much insight do such people likely have into their own beings if they can’t even figure out basic things, like the fact that there is no sufficient evidence for the existence of spirits or souls?

The whole idea that a group can assist with the process of attainment should be thoroughly questioned to begin with. Sure, someone can be “higher up” than you in an organization – and thus be better at specific rituals or teachings of that organization – but if the subject of discussion is Thelemic attainment, then no other person can directly observe your Self, and no person, aside from you, can directly aid your attainment in any substantial way.
It’s certainly conceivable, of course, that being part of a group might be enjoyable for an individual, but an attachment to supernatural fantasy-mongering is nothing more than an impediment to the process of discovering the will. Indeed, as Frater Potater points out, nothing resembling supernatural beliefs – or even occult practices – is at all necessary for Thelemic attainment.

As Aleister Crowley famously wrote:
I began to see that one might become a Master of the Temple without necessarily knowing any technical Magick or mysticism at all. It is merely a matter of convenience to be able to represent any expression as x + Y = 0. The equation may be solved without words. Many people may go through the ordeals and attain the degrees of the A.'. A.'. without ever hearing that such an Order exists. The universe is, in fact, busy with nothing else

 Here, Crowley confirms that one can attain to the highest levels of Thelemic initiation without once performing any kind of magick. He gives the same advice to Frank Bennett, who provides us a practical example of someone who did attain without any magick:

Symonds and Grant observe in an editor’s note in Crowley’s Confessions that according to Bennett’s diary Crowley told him
what initiation means, and what is meant when we talk of the Real Self, and what the Real Self is. And there and then Crowley told him that it was all a matter of getting the subconscious mind to work; and when this subconscious mind was allowed full sway, without interference from the conscious mind, then illumination could be said to have begun; for the subconscious mind was our Holy Guardian Angel.

And, of course, in the essay on “Mastery” in Little Essays, Crowley has these wise words:

Be thou well aware, O thou who seekest to attain to Mastery, of doing aught "miraculous": the surest sign of the Master is this, that he is a man of like passions with his fellows. He does indeed transcend them all, and turn them all to perfections: but he does this without suppression (for ‘Everything that lives is holy’) or distortion (for ‘Every Form is a true symbol of Substance’) or confusion (for ‘Admixture is hatred as Union is love’). Initiation means the Journey Inwards: nothing is changed or can be changed; but all is trulier understood with every step.

These ideas are consistent with my explication of Thelemic attainment in the Star Ruby and with my point above that virtually any behaviours are consistent with attainment.

As I cited in that essay, and as Crowley writes  in Magick in Theory and Practice, when discussing the IAO formula (fundamental to the Star Ruby):

He [the initiate] therefore becomes apparently the man that he was at the beginning; he lives the life of a man; indeed, he is wholly man. But his initiation has made him master of the Event by giving him the understanding that whatever happens to him is the execution of this true will.

In other words, “attainment” or “initiation” or “mastery” doesn’t necessarily change anything about a person. It doesn’t make a person “better” – it removes the idea that people should be “better” or different than they actually are. Initiation is an increasing acquiescence into the Order of things, into the authentic inclinations of one’s being and the actions that follow therefrom.
Now, acceptance of these facts may indeed change the way an individual behaves – and, as discussed on this blog and elsewhere, discovering the True Will is a process of making specific changes to behaviour – and that is the fundamental paradox of Thelemic initiation: one “ends as thou didst begin,” as Crowley puts it in the Star Ruby. Everything changes for the initiate, but in fact nothing ultimately changes. One remains ever as one was and comes to accept it more and more.

Individuals may well find themselves becoming more “balanced,” but this isn’t a “goal” or something to strive for. Balance is the result of letting go of the fatuous idea that an individual should be different – and with it, the equally fatuous ideas that the universe works the way one wants it to work, that it runs on one’s petty little feelings, that any kind of “cosmic importance” is attached to one’s activities, and that the arbitrary preferences of one’s mind should dictate conclusions about the universe.
[Just an aside here: It is indeed an early part of Thelemic training to expose the Self to as many different situations as possible, which necessarily involves a kind of “balancing.” If an individual spends most of his time reading, for example, it’s a good idea for him to expose himself to weight training and extreme sports for a while, just to see how his Self reacts, etc. In this situation, though, it’s not that “balance” is somehow a good in itself that the aspirant seeks after: the aspirant exposes the Self to so many different situations in order to obtain more data about that Self]

With that in mind, I’ll conclude by giving my own explanation of how to discern an “adept”: an adept should be able to explain the subject in which he is adept. Someone who really has “attained” to something should be able to explain – simply and succinctly – an overview of how it’s done, how one can do it, and what the results will be. An adept can further explain what practices are conducive to attaining it, how such practices work, and how he can tell that the practices are working.
Why do I say this? Because anyone who has actually done the work should be able to answer those very simple questions, as they are prerequisites for intelligently doing the work.

People who have to fall back onto, “Just do the work!” or “It’s ineffable, so we can’t talk about it!’ or “The True Will means different things to different people, so we can’t really talk about it” or “Here, I’ll instruct you on how the universe works, and you just have to accept this dogma until you’ve become indoctrinated enough to delude yourself into having experiences that you  will ineptly reason support the dogma you’ve already been primed to accept”…these people, I think we can safely conclude, haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.


  1. That thread over at the Fruitcake Factory keeps getting funnier. Since I wrote the above article, one of the many clowns over there has started claiming that Frater Potater’s “behavior is damaging (potentially) because you are continually pressuring me and others to think that what works for them might actually be not working for them.”

    This is hysterical on many levels. The idea that one should simply “trust oneself” that something “works for me” is, of course, what is actually damaging. It stops any real progress dead by encouraging the individual to cease critically examining practice. It’s easy to talk oneself into thinking that a practice is “working,” but without taking the step of trying to figure out if practices actually *are* working, continually questioning whether they are actually working or whether some other practice might not work better, an aspirant is simply flying blind, foolishly trusting the subjective impressions of the mind.

    It’s funnier when one recognizes that these people are supposedly interested in the system of Aleister Crowley, the man who advised, “Doubt all. / Doubt even if thou doubtest all.”

    Volumes could be written about the idiocy at the Fruitcake Factory, and it’s interesting to see that the presence of someone over there willing to take the simple step of asking basic questions and challenging assumptions (instead of blithely accepting them) has generated more dumb comments than ever before. That is an attainment of sorts.

  2. Excellent post, very much enjoyed and learned. Maybe I ask not on the right place, but why forum you call it fruitcake factory? I sense sarcasm, but dunno why.

  3. Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    Indeed, I am being sarcastic. "Fruitcake" is a slang term for an insane person. A "Fruitcake Factory," then, would be any place that produces fruitcakes, as that forum is, in my estimation.

    My use of the term is just an example of me being snarky for the sake of entertaining myself (and, I suppose, my readers).

  4. Yo! FP here... you know he banned me from the forum today?!? Go read what I said, he has threatened to censor it by the end of the night.

  5. I know. I've been following along.

    If you're interested in discussing the thread privately, you can feel free to send me an e-mail at ThelemicSkeptic at gmail dot com.

  6. Please do go see this thread: You want to laugh and laugh, and possibly have more fodder for future blogs, I suggest you see it before it too is censored.