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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.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Magick and the Evolution of Consciousness

The Thoth Tarot Knight of Cups, bearing aloft the Holy Graal

Star and Snake Thelema Blogspot: Knight of Cups
 
It is not only in recent times that men and women have confused the oracle with the oracular. By this I wish to assert a difference between the intelligible vision and voice that is transmitted from the depths of consciousness to a human medium, and the recipient (or disciples) of that voicing subsequently claiming an authoritative and universal meaning to the transmission.

In 1909, the English mystic and magician Aleister Crowley underwent something akin to religious conversion when he chose to accept that an oracle he had received in Cairo five years earlier, through the mediumship of his wife Rose, was the annunciation of a New Aeon, and that furthermore it expressed a new law for humanity. In the 1938 edition of the oracle, The Book of the Law, he wrote: 

The establishment of the Law of Thelema is the only way to preserve individual liberty and to assure the future of the race.

The institution of Thelema (“Will”) as a religion came about in relatively recent times, long after the death of Crowley. The oracular book received by Crowley has its roots in the cult centre of Thebes in ancient Egypt. There was no word in the Egyptian language for “religion”.

In our book, The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga, we put forward an atomic analogy as an instrument for comprehension of that oracular Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis. The scribing of the Egyptian oracle in 1904 coincided with new discoveries in atomic physics that would, forty years later, make possible the splitting of the atom and the unleashing of devastating forces of destruction of such unprecedented proportions that collective human consciousness would be traumatised.

Crowley was not alone in thinking that human consciousness evolves and undergoes periodic changes, shifts in perspective. Another English magician and seer, Dion Fortune, although younger than Crowley, was much of the same generation in cultural terms. She also felt that her mission in life was to assist the evolution of human consciousness—not through acceptance of an oracle, but through small groups of people working directly on the subconscious of the race. In 1941, while the Battle of Britain was raging, Dion Fortune wrote of another battle that she was directly involved with, a magical one:

We work by inoculating the collective subconsciousness of the race with certain archetypal ideas which have been communicated to us psychically in the course of our group meditation.

Dion Fortune went on to say, in the same letter, that she was aware that the enemy might be using the same tactics. It was a “war of ideas”. She therefore used the word “inoculation” in the sense that she felt the national collective subconscious needed to be protected against the incursion of ‘foreign’ ideas, in this case the ideology of the Nazis, much in the same way that the body’s immune system might need fortification in dealing with a new virus:

The innumerable individuals who make up a nation share a common subconsciousness below the personal subconsciousness of each one; this is called the racial or collective subconsciousness, and it plays a very important part in both individual and national life. Here abide the archetypal ideas that are common to each one of us and that we never have to learn. These give rise to myth and symbol, dream, poetry and art. It is this level of subconsciousness that is appealed to by national heroes; it is this level that is manipulated by spellbinding demagogues. It is here that the trends and limitations of the national character are determined, and from here that its inspiration is drawn. [1]

Both Crowley and Dion Fortune felt, even while not under the intense pressure of the war years, that humanity was doomed unless it underwent a radical change of consciousness. It is probably no coincidence that the aim of mysticism, magick and yoga for many centuries, perhaps for all of time, has been concerned with consciousness itself. Both Crowley and Dion Fortune, however, were applying what were then new scientific conventions of thought to their magical strategies. For example, consider Darwin’s theories of evolution and Jung’s mapping of the human psyche with new terms such as “archetypes” and the “collective subconscious”.

One of Crowley’s followers, Charles Stansfeld Jones (1886–1950), declared that the Aeon of Horus that Crowley claimed to have inaugurated in 1904 was abortive and ended after only forty-four years. According to Jones, from 1948 an Aeon of Maat—Truth and Justice—had come about.

Horus and Maat are two very important Neters or “gods” from the ancient Egyptian pantheons. It is helpful, however, to distinguish between the religious notions of “God” as a Supreme Being or creator from outside of creation, and the Egyptian Neters, which are universal principles visibly apparent in nature, even though we translate the term when used in the plural sense as “gods”.

Another follower of Crowley, Jack Parsons, an American rocket scientist, also did a magical operation called the Babalon Working in 1946, and claimed that a new epoch was about to begin, similar to Jones’s Aeon of Truth and Justice, providing a better vehicle for Crowley’s Law of Thelema. It seems that Jones, for all of his brilliance as a scientist, magically mixed up the planes. He confused gods with elemental spirits and elemental spirits with elementars or thought-forms. As if that wasn’t enough, he confused an elemental spirit with a woman (that he subsequently married) and a goddess, all at the same time.

Although Crowley saw clearly that Jones had confused the oracle with the oracular, he found himself unable to apply that wisdom to himself. It seems from his writings and letters that he truly believed himself to be the “chosen” prophet of a New Aeon. His interpretation of his Book of the Law was indeed so literal that Crowley supposed the Scarlet Woman mentioned in the book might manifest as an actual human woman, replete with the distinguishing ‘signs’ of red hair and green eyes! He also felt that the “pinnacles of power” mentioned in the book in relation to the Scarlet Woman referred to actual world governance placed, whether secretly or not, in his own hands:

Then will I lift her to pinnacles of power: then will I breed from her a child mightier than all the kings of the earth. I will fill her with joy: with my force shall she see and strike at the worship of Nu: she shall achieve Hadit.

Although Crowley frequently used metaphor and symbol to explain magical and spiritual ideas, he seemed to switch to a literal interpretation of scripture when it suited him. The title he gave himself, the Beast 666, is a case in point. Although much of his writing expresses irony, it seems that Crowley really thought, at times at least, that the beast referred to in St. John’s Revelation referred to him personally.

R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz did not appear to suffer from the megalomania that had infected Crowley. In 1948, Lubicz wrote in his Symbol and the Symbolic that the new discoveries in science had led to a general expansion of human consciousness. He also predicted that the balance of power would change from politicians to scientists, due to the abstract knowledge required to understand the new science and its applications. Furthermore, once scientists gained this power they would be helpless to prevent themselves from driving the race towards global destruction. Lubicz felt the only way to prevent this disaster would be to work to understand how the minds of the ancient Egyptians expressed scientific, magical and philosophical ideas simultaneously through the use of symbolism.

Although Lubicz was not a follower of Crowley, and certainly did not regard himself as any kind of prophet, there is a comparison to be made between his insistence on the necessity of developing a non-rational or suprarational mode of consciousness. Both Lubicz and Crowley felt that the projection of human consciousness into areas that transcend the bounds of rationality was not something for a few yogis or sages to do in a remote palace attended by acolytes, but was something absolutely necessary for human survival. According to Lubicz, writing in 1948:

We see political power passing increasingly into the hands of very small groups of doctrinairians, and Russia is a valuable example of the logical outcome of the socialist principle, which becomes a proletarian dictatorship. But this is a question merely of political power, opposite which there will necessarily arise, scientific power. If the former can influence people’s consciousness through force, the latter, far more tragic, will influence spiritual destiny, not through force, but through conviction. Then the masses will no longer have any choice but to believe what only a small group of men will understand. Believe and obey: this is already the case now, but obviously it will soon grow worse.[2]

In many ways Lubicz, unhindered by grandiose notions about himself, saw further than the English occultists. Although he did not mention that an expansion of consciousness (in collective terms) might well be followed by a contraction of consciousness, the implications of “Believe and obey” are certainly that.

An expansion of new ideas, new thought, artistic, political and social experimentation, came to flower in the Western world in the nineteen-sixties and seventies—though it was, perhaps, a somewhat unsavoury bloom. The pop art writings and poems of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and their followers are a case in point. While these are now an established part of the Western artistic and cultural tradition, the naive notions of the beatniks could only lead a narcissistic generation to nihilism. The radicals of the sixties assumed ownership of ancient spiritual traditions and spoke of them with an authoritative air. Yet what little they did understand was due to imbibing powerful hallucinogenics. To put this in metaphorical terms, they broke down the door of the Temple then claimed ownership of it. They succeeded only in desecrating themselves and poisoning the minds of future generations, leaving their children and their children’s children more susceptible than ever to mass exploitation. Counting only thirty years on from the end of the ‘radical’ nineteen-seventies to the turn of the twenty-first century, technological gadgetry and the mass addiction to increasingly trivial yet self-aggrandising applications of the new science has already superseded the desire to change anything in the world.

The esoteric movements of the twentieth century, though often wildly experimental, had clearly defined aims and purposes. They can hardly be blamed for the ocean of psychobabble that now passes for the ‘esoteric’. The so-called sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies has terminated abruptly in a plethora of universally accessible pornography, much of it brutal and dehumanising. Educational institutions are now commercial factories designed to turn the young into obedient units of productivity. In return for industrial slavery the masses are given ‘powerful’ technological toys that monitor and track their every move so that new and better products can be sold to them. They are rewarded with “social media” that create the illusion of community and communion where in fact none exists. Isolation and alienation are now considered to be quite normal. Prison populations have increased to such an extent that national governments cannot build new prisons fast enough to house all the ‘offenders’. So-called mental health issues now affect most urban populations in one form or another, directly or indirectly. The global wildlife population has declined by half in little more than fifty years, a direct affect of the vast expansion of science-based industrial mass production. And yet were a survey to be conducted, most persons would confidently state that science has made the world a better place than it was at any time in history. “Believe and obey”.

In the immediate aftermath of an atomic explosion a vacuum is formed. Air is sucked back into the vacuum, heated to an incredible temperature and then blown back out again. This gives rise to the mushroom cloud of dust and debris that towers into the atmosphere seconds after the nuclear flash. To form an analogy, we now see, in terms of consciousness, an equally unprecedented spiritual vacuum a little more than half a century after the Western powers tested the first atomic bombs on the unsuspecting civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Was something a little awry with the evolutionary theories of the twentieth century occultists? Some would say it is still too early to say, but that would be expected from anyone that has a vested interest in ‘authoritative’ doctrines. When comparing the evolutionary efforts of Crowley, Stansfeld Jones and Parsons with the symbolic cyphers of the Pyramid Texts or the allegorical narratives of the Bhagavad Gita or the Epic of Gilgamesh, it becomes clear that the former gentlemen missed the mark. It is in some ways justifiable to conclude they only succeeded in magically transforming themselves into megalomaniacs that believed in their own propaganda, no less than any religious fundamentalist. The charade of playing at being God-on-earth still allures power-hungry occultists that, like the race as a whole, seem hell-bent on hurtling like lemmings towards self-annihilation. To quote from another ‘sacred’ scripture, the biblical book of Job, 18: 8:

For he is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walketh upon a snare.

The threat to freedom and individual liberty that Aleister Crowley warned of nonetheless presses hard upon the Western world. Nature abhors a vacuum; sooner or later it will be filled with something. Perhaps there is a case, after all, for working directly on the subconscious of the race, as Dion Fortune put it? Unfortunately governments, corporations and advertising agencies have already been doing that with the increasingly powerful new technologies at their disposal. The problem with the latest so-called social revolution that began in the 1960s is that it strove for individual freedom and liberty by appealing to a weak force. The “Do what thou wilt” of Crowley’s Book of the Law—the “law of the strong”—becomes translated into “do whatever you like” in popular cult terms. It wasn’t intended to be that way, but in a world dominated by the simplistic, direct appeal of the advertising slogan, a kind of reverse alchemy takes place: the subtle is transmuted into the gross. Hedonism leads inexorably to helpless addiction and dependence. Materialism now dominates Western minds, and of late we have seen the inevitable reaction setting in – the resurgence of puritanical hypocrisy by the governing and administrative classes.

The spiritual vacuum will not be filled by Nihilism, Hedonism or a youth-culture obsessed by fashion, popular music, digital toys and other saleable commodities. It is unlikely we will see the Western world turning back once more to religion of any kind, though there are certainly those that hope to reintroduce it by violence and tyranny. The notion that magick and yoga can be about changing the consciousness of other people is unique to the twentieth century. All of the mystical and magical wisdom texts before that time eschew interference in the affairs of benighted mankind. To imagine that Thelema—as a religion—might supersede the existing world religions and put everything to rights is plainly absurd. The world religions were all propagated, without exception, in the vain hope of unifying people and cultures. Such attempts at unification have always succeeded only in creating more human misery and suffering through division and conflict. The Utopianism idealism of the early twentieth century soon collapsed into Dystopia.

The late Kenneth Grant, who was to many the magical heir to the throne left vacant by Aleister Crowley, approached the whole idea of magical consciousness transformation with great subtlety. Grant nonetheless appears to have accepted the plans for humanity laid down by his predecessors Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune, albeit in a somewhat guarded or cloaked manner. Grant appears to have embraced the evolutionary ideal, while at the same time approaching it from an ‘averse’ perspective—typical of all his thought and writing, which is exclusively concerned with the dark or shadow side of the occult. Grant seems to have no interest in ‘saving humanity’; in fact it appears from some of his writing that he couldn’t wait to get rid of the whole damned species. His grand notion was that only advanced occultists, with the necessary keys, would survive an imminent inrush of alien intelligence that would devastate humanity and clear away all civilisation as we know it. He saw it the duty of Thelemic magicians—those not under the spell of "Crowleyanity"—to work to bring about this influx of non-human consciousness from beyond the Abyss, outside of time and space.

On the 21st June 1998, Kenneth Grant issued An Official Statement concerning what was then known as his Typhonian OTO.[3] In the Official Statement—really an imperative to his Order—he wished to remind members and aspirants that:

It has been considered desirable to remind prospective candidates for membership—and even some members—that ‘creative occultism’ is not, per se, the final aim of our magick, but merely its mode of operation.

He continued to assert that the “birth pangs” of the New Aeon “have yet to wake up the mass of humanity to the perils that lie ahead unless certain steps are taken, now.”

There next comes a breathtakingly bold disclosure of his plans for humanity, which involve appointing a central government directed by a “Supreme and Most Holy King who shall be the Outer Head of the Order” (himself, at the time of writing). To conclude the explanation, Grant wrote:

This is a cosmic vision and we are concerned with no other terrestrial aim. When the entire Planet becomes Thelematized by the vibrations of the Typhonian Current, then only will it have been prepared for restoration to Those that once possessed it, and that originated the initial life-wave.

Although Kenneth Grant’s imperative may be interpreted as a metaphor for personal Initiation, it is clear from the Statement, as well as his books and letters, that Grant was very serious indeed about using magick to change the consciousness of all of humanity. Looking at the state of affairs around the world, this can hardly be thought of as an ignoble aim. Grant shared exactly the same aim, in that respect, as his predecessor Aleister Crowley, and indeed, Dion Fortune—two of the most influential occultists of modern times.

Where does all this leave us now? I do not in any way wish to denigrate the life’s work of Aleister Crowley or any of the others I have mentioned. However there are some pitfalls in following and believing in such ‘great men’, as opposed to learning from them. The Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, is the most perfect example of an oracular or magically received book that we have. Apart from one or two key lines that Crowley crossed out and altered afterwards, and that are clearly visible in the holograph manuscript, the book is exactly as it was transmitted and first recorded on the three days of the Cairo Working in 1904. Other so-called holy books, such as the bible, have been edited, rewritten and redacted for many centuries.

Aeons can be measured in countless ways, but one thing all aeons or grand epochs in time have in common is that they come and they go, along with their prophets. Human consciousness certainly undergoes periodic shifts of alignment. There can be no doubt that the way the ancient Egyptians thought and expressed truth in the frequently abstract symbolism of hieroglyphs is as different from our modern conventions as the language of the crow or eagle is to that of the mouse. The symbol is not known by the object, but by its latency. Meaning is found by following the symbol back to its source.

The quest for the immortal stone or elixir of life continues, and is no different now than it was thousands of years ago. The timeless wisdom is truly timeless, while that which is temporal is also earthbound, and therefore as mutable and perishable as are our fragile human bodies. Man is dust and returns to dust. The immortal stone must be actively sought, and with great determination and moral courage. No one can teach it or give it, as no one may speak of it and no one may possess it. Yet, as was frequently stated in the old, mostly anonymously written alchemical texts, it is played with by children and thrown away in the streets every day as though it were worthless.

Notes and References

[1] Dion Fortune, The Magical Battle of Britain: The War Letters of Dion Fortune, edited by Gareth Knight (Skylight Press, 2012).

[2] R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Symbol and the Symbolic, translated by Lucie Lamy [Inner Traditions International]. The italics are those of the author.

[3] Starfire—A Journal of the New Aeon, Vol. II No. 2 (Starfire Publishing). A legal battle was subsequently fought and lost from the English side, over the rights to use the name Ordo Templi Orientis and its symbol. While Grant and his followers complained that the American ‘Caliphate’ OTO were using a magical and spiritual symbol as a brand product, the English side lacked the finances and legal clout to pursue the case. From then on, Kenneth Grant’s magical Order has been known as Ordo Typhonis, the Typhonian Order.

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