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The man who writes books on a Thelema that no beast shall divine. Founding member of Ordo Astri, Thelemic Magical Collegium. Member of Ordo Typhonis since 2000 e.v. More articles and essays are posted at https://ordoastri.org/ and https://tantrika.co.uk/

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Crisis of the Modern Age - René Guenon and the Law of Thelema

René Guenon had a far-reaching vision. His life covered a critical turning point in history, encompassing great changes. With the book, Crisis of the Modern Age, Guenon was seeing what he called the Kali Yuga, the ending of a Great Aeon or Mahayuga, and the sinking into dissolution of all real knowledge. René Guenon died in 1951 and could not have foreseen exactly how things would turn out half a century later. Yet much of what he wrote concerning the distortion of symbol, language and the meaning of things, the loss of tradition, everywhere prevails.

Crisis of the Modern Age: Neuzeit Tarot Ten of Swords
The Neuzeit Tarot card depicts ten swords, bearing nonsensical motifs and depending from a crazy carousel.[1]

The masses look on, enthralled by the illusion or otherwise self-absorbed. Grasping hands vainly reach upwards.

Reason has become indistinguishable from the irrational and absurd.

The Kali Yuga of Hindu scripture is understood to be the ‘Age of the Demon’. The demon opposes all spiritual knowledge, bringing on a long Dark Age of materiality. With the culmination of Kali Yuga comes the final dissolution, preparing the way for the birth of a new Mahayuga cycle. Lasting for more than 6000 years, Kali Yuga comes as the fourth and final phase in a Great Aeon, as calculated by the precession of the equinoxes. According to the astronomer and sage, Aryabhatta, writing fifteen centuries ago, Kali Yuga began around 3000 BCE. We have more than a thousand years of Kali Yuga before a new Golden Age dawns; by that time there will be nothing left of our present civilisation.

[This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs.]

Aleister Crowley’s theory of three Great Aeons is very unsatisfactory, as evidenced by his garbled account of it in The Book of Thoth. He tried, unconvincingly, to equate his aeonic theory with the precession of the equinoxes, though he did note that we are now entering the precessional Age of Aquarius—a mere 2000 years in the great precessional cycle of 26,000 years.

The talisman that unlocked the (Egyptian) Book of the Law time capsule in Cairo, 1904, was the Stele of Revealing. It is the funeral stele of an Egyptian priest and scribe that served in the Temple of Karnak in Thebes, around 700 BCE. The cult name of the priest is Ankh-af-na-khonsu, ‘Life and Soul of Khonsu’. Khonsu is the Egyptian deity revered at Thebes as the son of Mut and Amoun. One of the duties of the priest was to ‘open the doors of Nuit’, that is, he opened the doors on the processional route that led to the roof of the temple, from where the heliacal rising of Sirius, the star of Egypt could be observed.

The name Khonsu means, ‘Sky-Traveller’, and is descriptive of the Moon as reflective principle. The Moon was anciently associated with the marking of time. The spiritual law encrypted in the funeral stele came near the end of the long ages of ancient Egyptian civilisation. In another thousand years the language would be completely forgotten. Even by Hellenistic times, Egyptian priests would only study the old Gods of Egypt academically.

The reception of the Book of the Law in 1904 coincided with the death of the Romantic era in Europe and the unmitigated onslaught of industrialisation in the name of ‘progress’. Entire populations of nation states were to be crushed and traumatised by mechanised industrial warfare on a vast scale. For more than a century now governments and warlords, with their teams of scientific advisers, have concerned themselves with the extermination or otherwise subjugation of populations. In times of peace, so-called, then the war becomes one where the weapons are psychological or in other ways covert. We have arrived at the present historical epoch, sometimes called the information age.

There are very few people today who have heard of Plato and Aristotle. Not one in a thousand, perhaps ten thousand, of those few have ever read either of them, even in translations. But there are also very few people whose thinking, such as it is, is not conditioned by the ideas of those two men.[2]

Crowley, writing seventy years ago observed, as did others of his time, a rapid decline in the ability of people to think coherently. In the twenty-first century there are now very few persons capable of concentrating their minds on one thing to the exclusion of all else. The average person spends more time at work in a job, perhaps two or three jobs, than at any other time in history. A few decades ago there was much speculation as to how things would be in the future. It was frequently imagined that there would be more leisure time for all. Machines would take care of mundane tasks, or otherwise accelerate tasks so people had more time to themselves.

That future has arrived now, and the opposite has occurred. Many persons spend hours a day looking at virtual displays on a phone, tablet or computer. Listening to digital ‘music’ in headphones while performing various unrelated tasks is commonplace—a degradation of both music and listener. Buried beneath layers of wallpaper noise and visual distraction, consciousness becomes isolated, the senses muted. The information addict is the slave of everyone else’s thoughts, however banal. Digital images and icons are replacing literature. Whereas literature is a reliquary, a digital image can never be more than dots creating an illusion of form and space. Virtual reality is a lie; the software illusion is not ‘near’ reality, it has nothing to do with it. The same applies to digital music, film and television. The professionals tell us that most people do not actually read the information on websites or other forms of digital media. What they do is ‘scan’ the information. The person runs their eye quickly down the content, searching for something appealing.

Businesses make large amounts of money from mouse clicks. There is no need to think. There is no precious time in which to calculate the loss of subtle knowledge that cannot be bought or sold. Once such keys are lost they are lost forever. Thought, imagination, requires far too much effort. Self-identification is instinctive, not rational. Corporations do not make profit from moral and intellectual strength, they make profit from moral and intellectual weakness.

One of René Guenon’s central themes when commenting on the modern age was that which he termed, ‘anti-initiation’. If initiation involves the transmission of knowledge, then there has to be an equal and opposite idea. Guenon observed a powerful movement against initiation in the modern world. He denounced many of the occult traditions from which we have taken influence. That clearing away, the denunciation of all that was not harmonious in his universe, was undoubtedly part of René Guenon’s personal initiation, yet what he wrote has universal implications. Guenon could have little idea at that time of the massive rise of popular culture that would take place in the 60s and 70s and that has continued to the present day. Pop culture, with its genres and fashion cults, is a powerful force against initiation, real knowledge and meaningful tradition. Advertising, television and ‘social media’ are forces against initiation, whether blindly or no.

Guenon was at the same time seeing the emergence of the New Age movement. The ‘New Age’ is a general term that includes many quasi-spiritual paths that lead only to dispersion of mind and the wasting of the soul. Yet they all claim to confer magical powers, ‘healing’, self-mastery and spiritual enlightenment.

There is now a very disturbing movement of anti-intellectualism in the West. The blinding of words by the confusion of language has always served the authoritarian anti-intellectual movement. That service is done in the name of freedom, in the name of equality and in the name of individualism—even where there is no real individuality, no freedom and no social justice.

Absorption in the digital delusion destroys the intellectual and imaginative faculty needed in spiritual practice. However, it has always taken great moral courage to stay the path. It takes courage to stand against the flow of fashion, to resist the unnatural pressures of the mundane world, to combat economically driven distraction and diversion in things alternately banal or horrifying.

The Real is eternally true. Every mystic tradition for thousands of years has told us that. Civilisations rise and fall—history tells us that. The present technological age will certainly come to an end—everything does. None of that makes any difference to Reality. There is still plenty of the natural world left, although it is fast declining under the advance of human technological and industrial totalitarianism. If we switch off digital devices, phones, computers and other gadgets, leave our urban environments and go to the woods, the sea—if we learn to understand the language of birds and wild creatures, come to understand the subtle vibrations of plants and trees, of the sun, the moon and the stars—then we will be closer at least to the Real, to something truly authentic. No man, not even the greatest thinker, philosopher, guru or mage, can prevent the sun from rising and setting or command the moon to change her course. No one can start or stop the revolution of the Great Wheel of the Aeons. What we can do is prepare ourselves spiritually so that, like the Egyptian priest Ankh-af-na-khonsu, we may ‘open the doors of Nuit’ and take a step closer to the Real and eternal.


1. The illustration of the Ten of Swords is from the (rare) pop art Neuzeit Tarot [Walter Wegmüller, AG Muller 1982].
2. The Book of Thoth, pp. 33. The italics are ours, not those of the author.

© Oliver St. John 2015, 2018
This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

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