Exploring Thelema and Chaos Magick, with Pete and Sef (Part 3)

Dear Pete,

Thank you for responding so quickly, and while I have been away myself this last week I hope the delay is tolerable. Firstly, to your previous discourse:

You appear to describe the “true will” as being an exclusive pursuit of a temporal vocation, and I consider this an oft-repeated fallacy which actually has no foundation in Thelema (for “True Will” does not exist in the text, and is misleading I feel). We talk about the “pure will” rather than the “true will”, which is comparable to the saying of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, regarding Karma-yoga:

“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”

-Bhagavad Gita, Cap 3 Text 19

“For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”

-Liber AL, Cap I v44

While you desired the freedom to play at entrepreneurship, capitalism, familymanship, sculpture, etc, these are not specific “wills” which are mutually exclusive, nor do they need to be in conflict with the pursuit of one’s Will. Should it be your Will to be all of these things at a given time, then they are all in accordance with that Will.

In my pursuit of my Will, as I understand it, I work: in a College to assist with young people gaining skills; on nightclub doors to help ensure people enjoy their night; organising Conferences and events  to assist people to connect with others who practise the same and different esoteric paths and traditions; helping to organise an Oasis of O.T.O. and take part in activities across the country; raising two (that I’m aware of) magical children to be good and decent and, in turn, do their Will. None of these things are in conflict, nor are they any less expressions of my Will for being different facets of my aims here. This is all my karma-yoga, and in working such, allows my Will to express itself.

This leads on naturally to your question:

I had a ferociously committed Thelemic friend once, but he drank himself into a very early grave, all the while proclaiming Do What Thou Wilt.

How do YOU decide whether someone is doing their true will or not?

In my current understanding, someone is most likely doing their Will when they cannot hold themselves from doing otherwise. The Will is that which remains. When everything is lost, if their whole life is disrobed and charred and scattered to the winds, then they are doing their Will because that is the only thing left to do – and on a magical journey, if we do not remove these things consciously then they will be removed for us.

My own view of Thelema ties closely to classical Stoicism. Pop-culture reference: Falling Down is an example of the lesson of the Stoic. On the magical path, we frequently find ourselves in strange if not downright absurd situation, and it is up to us whether we act or react according to our ethics and morals. The film focuses on two leads: Foster (played superbly by Michael Douglas) and Sergeant Prendergast (a likewise brilliant performance by Robert Duvall). They are both on a journey, over the course of one day, and both begin and end right next to each other. While Foster’s story is one of emotional reaction, Prendergast continually manages to act in a Stoic fashion, and thus Prendergast appears to be the “winner” – but they both fulfil their Will.


Modern mythology

Foster makes one bad decision after another, beginning with abandoning his car in a traffic jam and walking home across town after being fired – determined to see his daughter and ex-wife, who has a restraining order against him. He declares himself a victim of circumstance, and has a series of bizarre encounters with others who are all also making terrible decisions. He starts with a petty and greedy storekeeper, then goes through some gang thugs, to a white supremacist, and eventually ends up in a position where he is forced to face the fact that he might not be the hero of the story. Each encounter could have a non-violent resolution if he could accept his lot, but instead of making the choice to act rationally and walk away, he responds with unbalanced force and unchecked emotions. The situation quickly escalates, and ultimately he comes face to face with Prendergast as a wanted murderer.

Prendergast meanwhile starts in the same tailback, and his first action is to likewise leave his car – but to support and assist other people. He is on the ill-fated “last day before retirement” which is even called out by the film and yet he is determined to work a full day. In so doing, he makes the connection that Foster is the person making these egregious messes across his city, and pursues Foster despite the obvious danger. He is never rash, he is methodical, and at every encounter he observes and acts accordingly – the exact opposite of Foster, in fact. Even when his colleague is shot and he realises he may die, he resolves to continue, and goes towards whatever fate happily.

As the two finally meet, Prendergast gives one last chance to the wretched Foster rather than shooting him on sight. He asks clearly, “What are you going to do?” and offers the chance to survive. Foster finally understands his actions: “I’m a bad guy? How did that happen? I did everything they told me to.” This crucial line displays his dereliction of personal agency, and in taking the path of least resistance, or the road paved with good intentions, he has completely failed to take control of his own life rather than lashing out at whatever has gotten in the way of his perceived goal – which is forever unattainable.

Foster makes a choice in the end, the only choice he has left: to die. He has absolutely nothing left, even his future rotting in a jail cell cannot hold any hope, all of his potential squandered by carelessly abusing his temporary power. In choosing to die, he fulfils the Will which he so misinterpreted as wanting to see his daughter, and instead looks after her by gifting the insurance payout for his death. Prendergast also is faced with a choice, and shoots Foster to preserve his own life and that of the others to come after him. He makes it to retirement after all – the moksha of escaping the cycle of his working life.

This is a clear triumph of jnana-yoga, as Prendergast has applied Vairagya (dispassion, detachment, indifference to pleasure and pain under all circumstances), or the four Stoic virtues of Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance, to navigate his path through the movie and fulfil his own Will. There is no victory, just the accomplishment of that which was required by both parties to instruct the viewer.

This is how I decide that someone is doing their Pure Will – that whether they choose to or not, they are acting in harmony with others doing their Will, and doing it sometimes whether they like it or not.

As to your friend, who I am certain is sorely missed by the Thelemic community, the accomplishment of his Will is not tied to the state of his liver, or the continued beating of his heart. Did he act in accordance with his Will? Did he accomplish something to leave behind and be carried on? I think that this is a more valid critique of whether he did indeed do his Will. My only concern is that I hope he has gone on to whatever next phase he Wills:

Unto them from whose eyes the veil of life hath fallen may there be granted the accomplishment of their true Wills; whether they will absorption in the Infinite, or to be united with their chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be at peace, or to achieve the labour and heroism of incarnation on this planet or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto them may there be granted the accomplishment of their wills; yea, the accomplishment of their wills.

-Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass

Mass Revealing

Mass Revealing

An important point to consider is that “Do what thou wilt” is an injunction given to another, and not a personal statement of intent. Was your friend claiming to be doing his own Will when he drank, or was he fighting to ensure you had the liberty to do your own Will?

With that in mind, here is my second question for you:

We have looked at misconceptions on both sides of our mutual fence; in this essay I brought up the difference between the “True Will” fallacy (which implies a possibly unattainable goal, fixed in dogma) and the “Pure Will”, and “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” being used as an excuse to do as one pleases rather than the imperative of “Hey, whatever your Will is, that’s what you should be doing, and I’m cool with that.”

What misconceptions about Chaos Magick, and yourself perhaps, would you like to set straight once and for all?

All the very best Pete.




10 thoughts on “Exploring Thelema and Chaos Magick, with Pete and Sef (Part 3)

  1. Kenneth Blight says:

    Thank you Sef and can I say, don’t think for a moment Pete that we don’t consider you to be one of us, ’cause we do, lovingly and respectfully, we do.

  2. Kenneth Blight says:

    Love that line,”dereliction of personal agency”, it’s a gem, thank you.

    • Sef says:

      Very pleased you are enjoying this, Kenneth! A friend with whom I was discussing the essay over the weekend noted that a Taoist teacher of his had once said “only a dead fish goes with the flow,” and that is the trap too many fall into when seeking to live a magical life, certain at the fluffy Pagan or angels end of things.

  3. thiebes says:

    My only question is why the other guy is a published author and you aren’t? You clearly understand the material far better.

  4. Thank you very much for this pondered and beautiful piece of writing.

  5. nevatrejo says:

    thank you for something truly both worthy of and requiring to be “read,marked and inwardly digested”

  6. Wolven Angel says:

    Excellent piece of writing.

  7. Los says:

    You write: “This is how I decide that someone is doing their Pure Will – that whether they choose to or not, they are acting in harmony with others doing their Will”

    You’re begging the question. If you judge “doing the Will” by “acting in harmony with others doing their Will,” then you have to first determine that those others are doing their Will. It’s a circular argument.

    You write: “someone is most likely doing their Will when they cannot hold themselves from doing otherwise.”

    This is closer to the right answer, but it’s somewhat vague. The Thelemic concept of Will is more specific than you let on here, and it’s not accurate to imply that one can only discern this Will when one’s life is “disrobed and charred and scattered to the winds.”

    The correct answer is that “True Will” or “pure will” or whatever we want to call it isn’t a concept that requires us to figure out whether other people are doing their Wills or not. It is both completely impossible to know whether another person is doing his Will and completely irrelevant. The concept of Will applies only to the individual: you, as an individual, are the only person who can discover your Will, and you are the only person who can ever know that you are actually doing it. You can demonstrate that you are doing your Will — indeed, there are objective criteria for demonstrating it — but it can only be demonstrated to one’s own self.

    This, by the way, explains why the sentence “Do what thou wilt” is in the second-person in the Book of the Law: it is an injunction directed *to the reader.*

    Nothing in the Book of the Law requires the individual to figure out whether other people are doing Wills. In fact, the Book of the Law encourages the reader not to care whether others are doing their True Wills. It’s irrelevant to Thelema.

    • Sef Salem says:

      Hi Los – thanks for engaging in the discussion!

      I’ll respond to a couple of points there. Firstly, My essay here is in response to Pete’s previous question, so he asked how I personally decide whether someone is doing their [True/pure/apparent] Will or not. When push comes to shove and I need to make a call on that, that’s how I do it. To just answer “well, I don’t” would be a very short and not particularly useful article!

      Secondly, there was no implication that one can *only* discern this Will when one’s life is “disrobed and charred and scattered to the winds” (see Liber 156) – I took pains in the subsequent article to explain that while one of the characters was in this position, the other was not, and is clearly acting more in accordance with his Will than most of the subsidiary characters.

      All the very best.

      • Los says:

        You write: “[Pete] asked how I personally decide whether someone is doing their [True/pure/apparent] Will or not. When push comes to shove and I need to make a call on that, that’s how I do it. To just answer ‘well, I don’t’ would be a very short and not particularly useful article!”

        Yeah, but my objection was that it’s *impossible* to determine whether someone else is doing their Will (and that there are *never* any circumstances in which someone “needs” to “make a call on that”). Since you gave an answer, you evidently disagree with me, and you think it *is* possible (and that there *are* such circumstances).

        That’s great, since most productive conversations come out of disagreements. Indeed, I’d love nothing more than to have someone show me that I’m wrong about a given subject, but the answer that you gave in your post is circular (or question-begging, as I put it above). That is, you define someone “doing his Will” in terms of acting in harmony with others doing their Will. But then how did you determine that those others are doing their Will? Are they acting in harmony with others who are doing *their* Will? Well, then how did you determine that these other others are doing *their* Will? And around and around we go, forever.

        That it’s impossible to determine whether someone else is doing their Will is a vital part of understanding and practicing Thelema because it underlines the point that “True Will” isn’t a concept we use to judge the behavior of others. In fact, judgments about the behavior of others, in this sense, can become impediments to the process of discovering and carrying out one’s own Will. And one can, indeed, demonstrate to oneself – and only to oneself – that one is following the Will.

        Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this discussion. I’ll likely have a lot to say when you get to the HGA.

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