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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Gems from the Forums: Crowley's "Hymn to Lucifer"

A few years ago, I made a post on about Crowley's excellent poem "Hymn to Lucifer":

Hymn to Lucifer

 (by Aleister Crowley)
Ware, nor of good nor ill, what aim hath act?
Without its climax, death, what savour hath
Life? an impeccable machine, exact
He paces an inane and pointless path
To glut brute appetites, his sole content
How tedious were he fit to comprehend
Himself! More, this our noble element
Of fire in nature, love in spirit, unkenned
Life hath no spring, no axle, and no end.

His body a bloody-ruby radiant
With noble passion, sun-souled Lucifer
Swept through the dawn colossal, swift aslant
On Eden’s imbecile perimeter.
He blessed nonentity with every curse
And spiced with sorrow the dull soul of sense,
Breathed life into the sterile universe,
With Love and Knowledge drove out innocence
The Key of Joy is disobedience.

My discussion of this poem appears after the jump.

Read on for more.

The basic sense of this poem is that existence would be intolerable without the “Knowledge of Good and Evil” provided by Lucifer in the Adam and Eve myth. Lucifer was responsible for “spic[ing] with sorrow the dull soul of sense” — that is, by making human beings aware of misery and suffering, Lucifer actually gave existence the “spice” that makes it worth living. There’s a chapter in Liber Aleph that makes a very similar point, and perhaps I’ll dig it out later if I feel up to it [Note: later in the thread, I posted this quote -- I have appended it to this post, below].
The last line and its invocation of “disobedience” is an obvious reference to the first line of Paradise Lost (“Of man’s first disobedience…”), Milton’s great epic about the Judeo-Christian myth. Crowley turns the myth on its head and regards the serpent as not the enemy of man but his greatest friend, bringing the gift of the knowledge of good and evil — regarded as a curse by some but also as the greatest boon by others, “ye shall be as gods” and all that.
The parallels to Thelemic cosmogeny (i.e. the veiling of the True Self in the illusion of duality for the purpose of experience) should be obvious.
[In case it is not obvious, I elaborate on this point below. Elsewhere, I put the point this way: In Thelemic terms, the metaphor of the fall — and it is a metaphor — might correspond to the emergence of 2 from 0…but it is not a fall for Thelemites. It’s a happy event, one that is not a static event in the past, but a dynamic part of the present, as potential continually coalesces into form for the purpose of enjoying itself. For more information, see Erwin's excellent essay "The Khabs is in the Khu".]
Also, I’ve always admired the steep enjambment in this poem between lines 2 and 3, which actually enacts the sudden descent of death (“death,’ of course, being one of the “evils” ushered in by the “fall” and also another term for the fall itself).
From Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter 21 (a footnote):
This serpent, SATAN, is not the enemy of Man, but He who made Gods of our race, knowing Good and Evil; He bade “Know Thyself!” and taught Initiation. He is “the Devil” of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is BAPHOMET, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection. The number of His Atu is XV, which is Yod He, the Monogram of the Eternal, the Father one with the Mother, the Virgin Seed one with all-containing Space. He is therefore Life, and Love. But moreover his letter is Ayin, the Eye; he is Light, and his Zodiacal image is Capricornus, that leaping goat whose attribute is Liberty.

This all supports what I’m saying about Crowley deliberately inverting the Judeo-Christian myth (or, rather, reinterpreting it in a manner favorable to the Serpent).
[In a later post on this thread, I give the quote from Liber Aleph that I alluded to above (emphasis added):]

So, therefore, o my Son, count thyself happy when thou understandest all these Things, being one of those Beings (or By-comings) whom we call Philosophers. All is a never ending Play of Love wherein our Lady Nuit and her Lord Hadit rejoice; and every Part of the Play is Play. All pain is but sharp Sauce to the Dish of Pleasure; for it is the Nature of the Universe that hath devised this everlasting Banquet of Joy. And he that knoweth not this is necessary as an Ingredient even as thou art; wouldst thou change all and spoil the Dish? Art thou the Master-Cook? Yea, for thy Palate is become fine with thy great Dalliance with the Food of Experience; therefore thou art one of them that rejoice. Also it is thy Nature as it is mine, o my Son, to will that all Men share our Mirth and Jollity; wherefore have I proclaimed my Law to Man, and thou continuest in that Work of Joyance.”

Note that although the word “spice” does not occur here, that is clearly what is intended by “sharp Sauce” (or it’s at least a very, very similar metaphor).

In both “Hymn to Lucifer” and this chapter of Liber Aleph, “pain” — and we can broaden this to include suffering and sorrow of all kinds — is regarded not as “evil,” as it is in Judeo-Christian tradition, but as a “spice” that gives life its extra “kick.” In the Garden of Eden myth, mankind originally lived without knowledge of Good and Evil, a kind of existence Crowley presents in the poem as sterile, as lacking any sort of excitement, purpose, or meaning (“Eden’s imbecile perimeter”). After all, if there is no suffering — and no knowledge of suffering — what could anything mean at all? (“[A]Ware, nor of good nor ill, what aim hath act?”)

For instance, accomplishments only mean something because of the (“evil”) idea of failure. Learning things only has meaning in relation to the (“evil”) idea of being uneducated and stupid. Joy only has meaning in relation to sorrow. And so on and so forth.

Adam and Eve, lacking the knowledge of good and evil — lacking the idea that some things could be “bad” — lived in a sterile universe  where they served as the cherubic, naked gardeners of a pointless universe that existed only to feed the egotism of a megalomanical “god” who wanted everyone to “worship” him.

Lucifer (literally, “Light-bringer”) is properly understood — in the initiated understanding of the myth — as co-creator with “God.” God laid out bare existence, but Lucifer gave it meaning by giving mankind the (perhaps dubious) blessing of sorrow, of a “fall” into reality.

There’s a tradition in Christianity, by the way, called “Felix Culpa,” the “fortunate fall.” This is the idea that it’s ultimately a good thing that mankind fell in the Garden because it necessitated the greater good of the redemption via Christ. [This, incidentally, is partially what James Joyce is punning on when he calls the main character of Finnegans Wake a “Phoenix Culprit!” for his crime in the appropriately-named Phoenix Park]

Crowley’s reinterpretation of the myth is a different way of reading the fortunate fall: it’s a good thing that man fell from the Garden because it necessitated the possibilities of experience. And here’s where the Garden of Eden myth links up to Thelema, something I hinted at above and which I will now expound a bit further: Thelema postulates that the Individual (the True Self, the Khabs) is an essential part of the universe (united with Nuit), such that it would be impossible for the Individual to have any experience at all. The only way that an Individual can have experience is if Nuit creates *the illusion* of separateness…and with it, the attending “sorrows” of separate existence (good and evil and all the opposites).

Thus, the Individual (Khabs) suffers a “fall” from that pure state into the world of self-consciousness (the Khu, the veil with which the Khabs is wrapped). The descent of the Individual into consciousness — which creates a sensation of opposites (self and other, good and evil, etc.) — is analogous to the “fall from the Garden” in the Christian myth. It’s a great boon (for it allows experience), but it’s also something that can be perceived as a “curse,” as the source of suffering.

Hence, in the Hymn, Lucifer “blessed nonentity with every curse”: the paradox is deliberate. The Individual can only become an “entity” by being “cursed” with self-consciousness and a sense of separateness.

Interestingly, Crowley describes attainment in terms of *reclaiming* the Innocence of the Edenic, Prelapsarian state:

“We must understand, first of all, that the root of Moral Responsibility, on which man stupidly prides himself as distinguishing him from the other animals, is Restriction, which is the Word of Sin. Indeed, there is truth in the Hebrew fable, that the knowledge of Good and Evil brings forth Death. To regain Innocence is to regain Eden. We must learn to live without the murderous consciousness that every breath we draw swells the sails which bear our frail vessels to the Port of the Grave. We must cast out Fear by Love; seeing that every Act is an Orgasm, their total issue cannot be but Birth.” — The Book of Thoth

Seen from the perspective of the Initiate, consciousness — though it is a great boon given by Lucifer that enables experience — is also that which must be tamed. Its errors of perception — for example, thinking that “evil” and “good”…that is, “moral responsibility” and “restriction,” above…are actually real — must be corrected.

What Crowley is recommending here is that the Initiate *reclaim* Innocence…but a *higher* Innocence, one that is capable of seeing good and evil but understanding them as *illusion* (and here, the works of William Blake are quite relevant. You can read one study of one of Blake’s poems about the relationship of Innocence and Experience from a Thelemic perspective — a study authored by yours truly — here:

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