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Oliver St. John is the author of fifteen books covering Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, the Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of the Thelemic Magical Collegium, Ordo Astri, and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Compassion is the Vice of Kings

Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched and the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world.

Liber AL vel Legis, II: 21

The Temptation of Saint Anthony (FĂ©licien Rops)

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

Liber AL vel Legis, II: 21 has probably offended and outraged more persons than anything else in the books and writings of Thelema. Even Aleister Crowley hated it at the time. The simple-minded, or those with an axe to grind, have used it as an excuse to write Crowley off as a fascist and a madman. That way, the whole business can be put away and we can all sleep safely in our beds, untroubled by anything that might disturb our complacent self-righteousness.

Unfortunately for the legacy of Aleister Crowley, and perhaps the Book of the Law that is central to Thelema, Crowley at a later stage in his career frequently applied a literal or fundamentalist interpretation to Liber AL vel Legis. His Liber OZ, for example, was an attempt to create a kind of Bill of Rights—completely against the spirit of Liber AL vel Legis, which rails against all “crapulous creeds” or codified commandments. When Sophie di Jorio and I wrote The Ending of the Words—Magical Philosophy of Aleister Crowley, we sought in every way to separate the content and meaning of Liber AL vel Legis from the personal and political interpretation that Crowley and his followers subsequently imposed. Instead, we placed the book in the context of the historical framework of the Western Mystery Tradition. In that way, our book might have been more appropriately subtitled, “An unofficial comment on Liber AL vel Legis”.

The word “compassion” appears twice in Liber AL vel Legis, where it is treated – in direct contradiction to popular contemporary thought—as a spiritual obstacle, not a measure of worthiness. The word “pity” occurs several times in the second and third chapters of Liber AL vel Legis. In Liber AL II: 48, “Pity not the fallen! I never knew them”, there is an intimation that Crowley has been arguing against the flow of instruction, or otherwise quietly resisting it. At this stage, the Intelligence appears to be trying to force Crowley the scribe to submit, to surrender—to accept the wisdom he was privileged to receive direct from source.

There is a possibility that it is Crowley himself who is being warned of dire consequences if he does not accept this knowledge; that he will “fall” unless he purges himself. The first mention of “pity” comes in Liber AL, II: 46-48, where it seems Crowley is being interrogated and rebuked. We should remember the book was dictated to Crowley, and he did not like the way the book was going:

Dost thou fail? Art thou sorry? Is fear in thine heart? Where I am these are not. Pity not the fallen! I never knew them. I am not for them. I console not: I hate the consoled and the consoler.

The point is made with even greater ferocity the next day, in Liber AL, III: 18:

Mercy let be off: damn them who pity!

The word is mentioned once again in Liber AL vel Legis, III: 42, in a paragraph concerning the ordeals of Initiation:

Them that seek to entrap thee, to overthrow thee, them attack without pity or quarter; and destroy them utterly.

Liber AL vel Legis has a historical, an ancient Egyptian context. At the cult centre of Thebes, Ra Hoor Khuit was associated with Hadit (or Behedety) who was in turn associated with the historical battle chronicled by Ptolemy where the pharaonic Horus of Edfu defeated his enemies, ruthlessly routed them and followed them all over Egypt, finally killing every last one of the few survivors in Nubia. This can be understood as a spiritual battle where the “enemies of Ra” symbolise the forces of ignorance and dispersion that will ultimately amount to death as finality. In Liber AL, III: 42, “attack without pity” may therefore be taken as an instruction to be merciless with the enemy within. Ra Hoor Khuit offers his protection here, for the sun disk was not only a slayer of enemies but also a symbol to indicate the whole sky above, the heavens. It means protection, with infinite reach. How can one hide from the sky? But if there is pity for the aggregates that fuel the ego, including self-pity – thus allowing demonic forces to enslave the soul – then even the sky cannot protect the one that has consigned him or her self to the hell worlds where no sky can be seen.

In Liber AL, III: 43 the warning is carried to the Scarlet Woman, the soul, where Ra Hoor Khuit, the Lord of the Last Judgement says he will slay her child:

Let the Scarlet Woman beware! If pity and compassion and tenderness visit her heart; if she leave my work to toy with old sweetnesses; then shall my vengeance be known. I will slay me her child: I will alienate her heart: I will cast her out from men: as a shrinking and despised harlot shall she crawl through dusk wet streets, and die cold and an-hungered.

The soul is warned against loss of her immortal principle. Again, it is mostly self-pity that is the ill. The verb “to pity” is insidious, since it presupposes a kind of superior vantage point and bolsters the ego. “Compassion”, that has become a popular buzzword in recent times, also implies a superior vantage point. While saying, “I feel with you” (com-passion), it assumes superior understanding, superior virtue. Automatically one feels good about oneself and better than the others who are not compassionate.

The Egyptian Book of the Law may readily be understood as an imperative concerning spiritual life or death for those that would dare. The quest for the elixir of life, the immortal stone of the wise, is not to be confused with a quest for psychological self-improvement, as the legions of magical apologists, spiritual ‘healers’, professional therapists and the like would have it.

But she said: the ordeals I write not: the rituals shall be half known and half concealed: the Law is for all.

Liber AL vel Legis, I: 34

The “rituals”, as with Egyptian hieroglyphs, are not known by the object of the symbol, but by the latency of the symbol. The symbol must be followed back to its source. The Law of Thelema need not be “for all” in the sense of “for everyone”. As in the context of other scriptures, “all” frequently means “of all types and manner of persons”. Once Thelema is understood as having nothing to do with religion—a concept completely unknown before the armies of new state monotheism trampled on the old pagan world and burned down its temples—then it can be fully appreciated as a spiritual, magical and alchemical treatise that is ruthlessly discerning, and yet does not exclude any man or woman by race, religion or culture. “All” does not mean, “every single person in the world”. Yet as the governing principle of the current epoch or age, the Law of Thelema nonetheless secretly informs, directs—and disrupts and destroys—all human thought and activity.

To help understand the destructive role of the Law of Thelema, I will quote from The Ending of the Words—Magical Philosophy of Aleister Crowley:

Liber AL vel Legis came into the world at a time in which human reason had declared God dead. As Erich Fromm wrote in The Sane Society in 1955:

“In the nineteenth century the problem was that God is dead; in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.”

In killing the truth man destroys himself. However, the Thelemic transmission or 93 current does not allow human reason to prevail against love.

The more modern antecedents of Thelema include some of the works of Nietzsche, especially Thus Spake Zarathustra. It does not seem altogether improbable that the “93” transmission spawned the Surrealist movement that produced its manifesto in 1924—twenty years after the reception of Liber AL vel Legis. Nietzsche, the Book of the Law, and the Surrealists declared war on reason, the “word of Sin” (Liber AL vel Legis, I: 41). This does not require that reason and intelligence be discarded altogether. It does require that the armour-plated dogs of reason must be silenced. As Aleister Crowley wisely put this in The Book of Thoth:

“Heed not the siren-voice of sense, or the phantom voice of reason: Rest in simplicity, and listen to the silence.”

In The Ending of the Words, we devoted some time to presenting the theology of redemption in a fairly simple way, ‘as it is’. If the Law of Thelema is to abolish or supercede what went before it, then we first need to understand exactly what it is that did go before it! To continue—and to conclude this essay—here is a little more from the chapter from The Ending of the Words called, “The History of the Divine Covenant”:

Liber AL vel Legis dismisses the theology of redemption with an uncompromising treatise concerning the supremacy of infinite love over human reason, and the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit which “bloweth where it listeth” (John, 3: 8)—incarnating the Word in a new form in every age. Now the Word is to withdraw in Silence, as humanity has been informed that its own reason is a lying spirit. Mankind totters on the brink of extinction amidst unseen emanations that shape his destiny according to cosmic forces he is unaware of—since he does not see, hear or feel them.

From the chaos of a new dark age Liber AL vel Legis shines a light that is invisible save to those enraptured by the love-song of Nuit. The latter will ultimately encounter Hadit as an initiatory trial or ordeal:

I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death.

Liber AL vel Legis, II: 6

For the soul who endures the ordeals of the path of knowledge, heaven may be known both during and after earthly existence:

I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.

Liber AL vel Legis, I: 58

The spiritual pulse of Thelema is love, while its wisdom is only known through discernment—which is the essential discipline of the path of knowledge:

Love is the law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well!

Liber AL vel Legis, I: 57

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© Oliver St. John 2014