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Oliver St. John is the author of books on Hermetic and Thelemic philosophy, Qabalah, operative magical Theurgy, Tarot and astrology. He is a founding member of Ordo Astri, Thelemic Magical Collegium and has been a member of the Typhonian Order since 2000 e.v. New articles and essays are posted at Tantrika Books.

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 (Félicien Rops)

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The above passage from the Egyptian Book of the Law has probably offended and outraged more persons than anything else in the books and writings of Thelema. Even the scribe, Aleister Crowley, hated it at the time. Unfortunately for the legacy of Thelema, Crowley, at a later stage in his career, frequently applied a fundamentalist interpretation to this received work. His Liber OZ, for example, was an attempt to create a kind of Bill of Rights—completely against the spirit of the book, which rails against all “crapulous creeds” or codified commandments. It is necessary to separate the content and meaning of Liber AL vel Legis from the personal and political interpretation that Crowley and his followers subsequently imposed.

The word “compassion” appears twice in Liber AL, 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 the book. 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, via the mediumship of Rose Crowley (Ouarda the Seer).

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 II: 46-48, where it seems he 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 III: 18:
Mercy let be off: damn them who pity!
The word is mentioned once again in 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.
The Egyptian Book of the Law 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 his 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, 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 magical Initiation, the Law of Thelema nonetheless secretly informs, directs—and disrupts and destroys wherever necessary to Initiation—all human thought and activity.

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. Nietzsche, the Book of the Law, and the Surrealists declared war on reason, the “word of Sin” (Liber AL, 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 it, 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.
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. Liber AL 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:
II: 6 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. 
For the soul who endures the ordeals of the path of knowledge, heaven may be known both during and after earthly existence:
I: 58 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. 
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:
I: 57 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!


© Oliver St. John 2014, 2018  
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