”I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.” Aleister Crowley
“An Enlightened Master is ideal only if your goal is to become a Benighted Slave.” Robert Anton Wilson
From the brilliant introduction to why it’s worth exploring meditation in Book 4, through to the poetic genius of The Book of the Law, Crowley is an excellent writer. He dives deep into metaphysical speculation, Qabalistic exegesis, grand political pronouncements and rakish humour. But like the brilliant Robert Anton Wilson he also says over and over again that the map is not the territory.
Sadly the triumph of style over content (and let’s face it with Crowley there is one hell of a lot of style as well as content) means that it’s remarkably easy to adore the sparkling wrapper and miss the challenging gift you’ve found inside.
I’ve had some lovely conversations with Thelemites recently and, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing line by line analysis of Liber AL as much as the next occult-trainspotter geek, BUT
Why does it have to happen again and again that a teacher arrives, proclaims that we should all ‘think for ourselves and question authority’, and yet ends up being the centre of a personality cult? That’s why I find that ‘proclaiming the Law of Thelema’ thing tricky. Sure I’m down with it that Thelema is an expression of a perennial philosophy which arises in Buddhism, Taoism, Tantrism and indeed the esoteric traditions of many faiths. Not that Crowley himself didn’t, at times, write clear injunctions for his followers to spread his word and his cult as The Prophet of The New Aeon. Frankly I’ve been remiss on not writing that at some point myself so, for the record; please send me your money, offers of assistance etc so that I can set up a Brave New World of Pleasure and Freedom and Power with me as Supreme Czar and my book ‘Magick Works’ as the core sacred text. Thank you.
The Law – definite article. Hang on? We’ve been here before haven’t we? The Law of Moses, The Holy Bible – thousands of years and lifetimes of madness later and Crowley, the great trickster, the demon Crowley, tries the trick again and – oh dear…
So to reference dear Ol’ Ramsey Dukes again I’d say that I ‘dig’ Thelema. No I’m not going to photocopy and distribute copies of Liber Oz round my old university campus, but I do dig it.
So I guess I’m a Thelemite in the same sense that I’m a Wiccan, a Pagan, and many other things. It’s part of my personal magickal blend but I wouldn’t want it to overwhelm all the other rich flavors. Crowley’s teacher Alan Bennett was one of the first people to introduce Buddhism to the west, and Crowley himself studied long and hard in the east. The Book of The Law is so clearly a Sufi text that it’s hardly worth much more comment. Sure it’s got some fabulous stuff in it, and some derivative ramblings, some maniac coke-head ravings and a couple of bonkers embedded suduko puzzles… But I can’t (as I believe one must to became an initiate of the OTO) accept The Book of The Law as THE word of God (I suspect that’s not the exact wording but my Minerval was some time ago). Now please appreciate I’m not saying Thelemites are stupid, that they’ve never considered these things. I’m sure many have. It just seems to me that by focusing on his religion of Thelema we miss out on so much more of what Crowley was about. It leaves us emulating how he produced his books, his liberal use of Greek letters, his fetish for insignia and ceremonial titles. But this isn’t Crowley the magician and teacher. He comes over so well in texts like the Book of Thoth in which, while steadfast in its Thelema, uses this as a steady burning torch that leads us towards discovery. The torch is to guide us through the darkness and into the light of a New Aeon, not for us to sit down around and worship.
Crowley always wanted to be a preacher, like his Dad who died of tongue cancer (I mean how darkly poetic can you get?) when ‘Alick’ was still young and who he described as his ‘hero’. So of course he fancied himself as head of a religion. It doesn’t take a brilliant psychologist to see why. But he also engaged in systematic and determined magick to transform himself. He carried magick out of the medieval grimoire tradition and into the modern age. What a staggering achievement! Creating his own religion is a footnote compared to that Herculean effort. That’s why the introduction to Book 4 rules. And that’s why, especially as a magician, my tribute to Crowley is to be me.