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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/

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Thelemic Mysticism: Will to a Great Work

Theurgic operations do not begin or end with a word or an oath; they begin and end with silence. We behold the sun and the stars in a light no less than that of divine revelation. Yet what we perceive is not that; it is the product of congress between the absolute and ourselves. Beyond the fixed stars, as Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi put it, is the ‘Sky without Stars’.

Thelemic Mysticism: Veils of Ain Soph Aur reflecting AtziluthIn Qabalistic terms, the void or limitless space called Ain Soph forms points of junction between planetary bodies and the viewer. The sensible universe is thus enclosed between the eye of the eternal and the eye of the seer. The source, or void spirit, is latent. On the threshold exist nodal points or space marks forming a nexus outside of space and time. The universe is a matrix providing body or form for lines of light unique to the position of the individual yet woven from an undifferentiated source. According to the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL, I: 28–29,
None, breathed the light, faint and faery, of the stars, and two. For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.
In Thelemic cosmology we do not posit the absolute in terms of ‘one’, but in terms of zero, containing all possibilities, and two. The universe appears by power of dual manifestation. According to Liber AL vel Legis, I: 30,
This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.
[This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs]

On the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the first emanation is Kether the Crown, the ‘one’. However, the supernal sephiroth are best thought of as the unified triangular base of a tetrahedronal pyramid, of which the apex is Da’ath. The first three emanations may be understood as a cloak or veil of concealment cast upon the triple void named Ain Soph Aur, as reflected through the mirror of Da’ath.
According to Liber AL, I: 4,
Every number is infinite; there is no difference.
Chokmah, which is numbered ‘two’ as the seat of primal duality, means ‘Wisdom’, which the Greeks call Sophia. Chokmah is paired with Binah, ‘Understanding’. These are the root of force and form, the means of dual manifestation. Mystic unity, often misconstrued as ‘oneness of being’, is not a goal but is the yogic means to render the inward Seeing Eye unclouded by thought. In reality, there is no separate or unitary consciousness, for that is a contradiction in terms.

Yoga literally means, ‘joining together’, and such union is integral as a means to the spiritual goal of knowing God, or Reality. We first fuse together subject and object through yogic concentration and stillness of mind and body. Division, on the other hand, is creative. Division or separation is begetting, multiplication, the discernment of one thing from another. BRA, which has the meaning, ‘created’, ‘to carve out’, ‘to separate or select’, is the verbal root of the first word of the first book of Genesis, ‘In the beginning’ (BRAShITh).
In the beginning the Elohim created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of the Elohim moved upon the face of the waters. And the Elohim said, Let there be light: and there was light. And the Elohim saw the light, that it was good: and the Elohim divided the light from the darkness.
Here is described the actions of the Logos, which utters the word of the divine absolute. It is attributed Qabalistically to Chokmah. The intelligence of Binah, ‘Understanding’, is the Matrix by which the word is clothed in form. In Kether is the union of these two, in which is concealed the will to divide and unite, to create and destroy. The uniting of subject and object, Chokmah and Binah, is to return to the source, that Mystery which cannot be defined or divided by reason.

Thelema and the Divided Will

Yoga is not about evolution but involution, the return to the source of all. According to Liber AL, III: 2,
There is division hither homeward; there is a word not known.
There must always be division in the self when it comes to the practice of magick and yoga. Until the True Will (Thelema) is known, the personal will is constantly at odds. Even then, illumination is not the end of the struggle, the spiritual battle. Magick and yoga, if pursued to the end, will ultimately depose a terrible tyrant, which we call the human ego, and put in its place the true King and guide of the soul, which we call the Holy Guardian Angel. The mind-body complex will use every means of persuasion to indefinitely postpone the practice of magick and yoga. 

1. The body says, “We can do this tomorrow, for now I am very comfortable as I am and I want to enjoy this comfort now so that I know that I am alive and well and living this life. These grave matters of spirit, this arduous work, can wait”.

2. The body says, “I am uncomfortable. Something is not right and I need to know what it is. I will be better equipped tomorrow. Things will be different then. We can do this tomorrow, when I am sure of myself.”

When the will is divided there is no single eye that can look into eternity. To the divided self, matter reigns supreme, is completely invincible. And yet this restless condition of mind, this unease with things, is the necessary prerequisite to any Great Work. It is the question that opens the Arthurian quest for the Holy Graal:

“What ails thee, o king?”

The Evil Genius (viz., ego) nonetheless seizes upon the condition as compelling evidence that any Great Work is mistaken and should be abandoned until the perfect conditions arrive.

Thelema and Satan

The Christian mystics made much of the fleshly opposition, the constant struggle with Satan. The Angel Satan is therefore best understood as the principle of initiation through trial and ordeal, as is clear from the account given in the book of Matthew, 4: 1–11. Jacob Boehme asserted that the struggle itself is vital. We are human; we are imperfect. The greatest of saints were great not because it was easy for them but because they endured in spite of everything that hell had to throw at them. Our rationality is frequently no ally, taking the side of Satan as the materialistic Opposer. According to Liber AL, II: 30–31,
If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops and does nought.
If Power asks why, then is Power weakness.

Thelema versus Humanistic Psychology

The materialist, who wants everything explained in rational terms, regards Mystery with utmost contempt. The spiritual is reduced to the question posed in couch therapy: ‘How are we feeling today?’ The aim is to feel good about oneself. Feeling good in the face of the tragedy of the world requires some dishonesty to accomplish. The needs of the human ego are paramount in such personal diagnostics. A magical and spiritual practice, far from massaging the ego, will tend—at least at first—to be a source of pain and discomfort to mind and body. Materialism places sole reliance on rationality and intellect. It therefore reduces any Great Work to mere self-affirmation. Worse, psychological reductionism declares that the self can empower the self, the self can convey to its own. It is the primary delusion of the human ego. Humanistic psychology is now the common currency of academic philosophy. It affirms the woeful solipsistic mantram that there is nothing beyond the self, there is no truth beyond the self, and that truth is only what you make of it personally. It is what René Guénon described as the force of ‘anti-initiation’ in his Crisis of the Modern World. It is the hypnotic refutation of true knowledge, for it admits to no truth beyond the self, which is whatever we choose to make of it.

Thelema and Mysticism

The mystic Jacob Boehme clearly understood that the True Will, which we call Thelema, is not a personal will or desire. Neither does it originate from the human intellect or psyche, for the nature of the psyche is reflective as the moon. Boehme was born in Görlitz in 1575. He began life as a shepherd, then took up an apprenticeship and became a master shoemaker. His work was suppressed for a time, and he was fortunate not to have been tried and found guilty of heresy. Having nothing with the desire to attain personal happiness, comfort or wellbeing, Boehme’s expressed concern was to know God. In his Confessions, Boehme writes,
I besought the Lord earnestly for his Holy Spirit and his grace, that he would please to bless and guide me in him, and take that away from me which turned me from him. I resigned myself wholly to him, that I might not live to my own will, but his …
Thelema is the Greek word used many times in the New Testament to describe the will that is expressly not the personal will or desire. For example, in the book of John, 6: 38:
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.
The Christian term ‘grace’ is as much a technical term as darshana, and should never be confused with ‘favour’, though it often is. The Thelemite will in all probability eschew the Christian Saviour—if the Light of the World is placed in such terms—while readily accepting that the Holy Guardian Angel must be the sole guide, the ‘King, Ruler and Helper’, as it is put in the Graeco-Egyptian Bornless Ritual.
This is the Lord of the Gods: This is the Lord of the Universe: This is He whom the winds fear: This is He, who having made voice by His commandment is Lord of all things: King, Ruler and Helper.
What if we should persist with the practice, resisting all contrivances of mind and body to pull us from the path? Perhaps nothing! Or perhaps that which is called grace in Christian mysticism and darshana in the East—literally, ‘a glimpse’. Boehme, in the simple but beautiful language of his Confessions, described a direct or ‘received’ experience that transcended all his knowledge.
In this … the Gate was opened to me, that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at an University …
Here, Boehme perceived a “great mystery”, a “thorough view of the Universe, as a complex moving fullness wherein all things are couched and wrapped up”. This was at first impossible for him to explain or set down in writing.
Yet it opened itself in me, from time to time, as in a young plant. It was with me for the space of twelve years, and was as it were breeding. I found a powerful instigation within me before I could bring it forth into external form of writing; but whatever I could apprehend with the external principle of my mind … I wrote down.
Far from being a state of finality or attainment, such glimpses are no more than encouragement; the struggle goes on.
Afterwards, however, the Sun shone upon me a good while, but not constantly, for sometimes the Sun hid itself, and then I knew not nor well understood my own labour. Man must confess that his knowledge is not his own but from God, who manifests the Ideas of Wisdom to the soul, in what measure he pleases …
Boehme insists that in writing down his experiences in case this might help some other on the path, his hand is guided by a spirit that is utterly beyond his self.
Neither is this my natural will, that I can do it by my own small ability; for if the Spirit were withdrawn from me, then I could neither know nor understand my own writings.
In the prayer that closes the first chapter of Confessions, there is yet an intimacy with the Serpent Power or Occult Force.
O immense Greatness! I cannot compare thee with any thing, but only with the resurrection from the dead; there will the Love-Fire rise up again in us, and rekindle again our astringent, bitter, and cold, dark and dead powers, and embrace us most courteously and friendly. O gracious, amiable, blessed Love and clear bright Light, tarry with us, I pray thee, for the evening is at hand.
Curiously, this is echoed by the words of the English mystic Thomas De Quincey on the approach of nightfall in his own Confessions:
A sudden step upon the stairs broke up my dream, and recalled me to myself. Dangerous hours were now drawing near, and I prepared for a hasty farewell.
Goethe produced his writing, his poetry; Blake produced his etchings, his wonders of colour and form. Aleister Crowley produced, with the aid of his wife Rose and the prince priest Aiwass, the Book of the Law. Kenneth Grant produced, at length, his Wisdom of S’lba. It is easy to imagine we must all produce our own ‘holy book’, our masterpiece of art or literature—some tangible material evidence that we have been where we have been, that we have seen what we have seen. It is wonderful to produce works of art but if we fall into the snare of seeking self-identification and self-validation, we close the Abyss as the limit placed above our own heads and hearts.

Materialism insists on a result as final, as product. At the end of the line is the product itself, and the consumer that purchases it through the need to self-identify (thus the ‘brand’ is all-important). Crowley, in his instructional works, spoke perhaps rather too frequently of ‘attainment’. Sages of old times were frequently more pragmatic. The second chapter of Jacob Boehme’s Confessions gets straight to the business of daily strife. It is not his aim to confess worldly sins as such, thus inviting prurience. The nature of his confession is that a Great Work is as much a daily struggle for him as it is for anyone else. The fifteen minutes of being born aloft on wings of grace may well be followed by twelve years arduous work.
I am a sinful and mortal man, as well as thou, and I must every day and hour grapple, struggle, and fight with the Devil who afflicts me in my corrupted lost nature, in the wrathful power which is in my flesh, as in all men continually. Suddenly I get the better of him, suddenly he is too hard for me; yet, notwithstanding, he has not overcome or conquered me, though he often gets the advantage over me. If he buffets me, then I must retire and give back, but the divine power helps me again; then he also receives a blow, and often loses the day in the fight. But when he is overcome, then the heavenly gate opens in my spirit, and then the spirit sees the divine and heavenly Being, not externally beyond the body, but in the well-spring of the heart. There rises up a flash of the Light in the sensibility or thoughts of the brain, and therein the Spirit does contemplate.
Boehme makes it clear that such illumination is purely internal, “not externally beyond the body”, yet it arises within, not of the self yet apprehended by the self. This Devil, as with Satan as the Opposer to the Great Work, is no more and no less than the ordinary human nature and personal will. It is certainly possible to know a truth that transcends the self, that is no rational self-identifying assertion. It is even possible to be informed by such a truth or light while immersed in the darkness of mind and body that it is our lot to dwell in.
Though an angel from heaven should tell this to me, yet for all that I could not believe it, much less lay hold on it; for I should always doubt whether it was certainly so or no. But the Sun itself arises in my spirit, and therefore I am most sure of it.
The Book of the Law, in its three chapters and 220 verses, makes it clear that human rationality, the ‘dogs of reason’, is doomed, and is the arch means of self-dooming. The condemnation reaches a crescendo in Liber AL, II: 32—33.
Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite and unknown; and all their words are skew-wise.
Enough of Because! Be he damned for a dog!
Yet the great mystery is declared as fully knowable. In Liber AL, I: 58, the starry goddess Nuit declares,
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.
This is in direct contradiction to materialism, which is founded on the impossible and self-defeating premise of the agnostic, the egotistical negation of the atheist. Such certainty, such a Sun arising in the spirit, must not be thought of as an end, a product or finality. How many have abandoned the path, thinking their daily struggle only proved their unworthiness, their lack of success or, alternatively, that the path itself is a lie, a fraud, a bad joke played upon suffering humanity? How many more have sought the false graal of comfort, reassurance and self-validation in a spiritual or magical path? These are the first to give it up in horror when confronted with what may seem an unequal measure of pain, discomfort, doubt and self-negation. While none of these spring from the eternal, the so-called ‘negative’ qualities so feared by the materialist are nonetheless grist to the mill of initiation, as revealed in Liber AL, II: 46—47.
Dost thou fail? Art thou sorry? Is fear in thine heart? Where I am these are not.
Woe, sorrow and failure are as clouds masking the infinite radiance of eternity. The will to a Great Work is able to proclaim that no matter how powerful the human ego is to subvert our purpose, we have not been wholly overcome or conquered. Yet we must understand that the “fight of the spirit” is “sometimes down and sometimes uppermost”.
The soul liveth in great danger in this world; and therefore this life is very well called the valley of misery, full of anguish, a perpetual hurly-burly, pulling and hauling, warring, fighting, struggling and striving. But the cold and half-dead body does not always understand this fight of the soul. The body does not know how it is with it, but is heavy and anxious; it goes from one business to another, and from one place to another; it seeketh for ease and rest. And when it comes where it would be, yet it finds no such thing as that which it seeks. Then doubtings and unbelief come upon it; sometimes it seems to it as if God had quite cast it off. It doth not understand the fight of the spirit, how the same is sometimes down and sometimes uppermost.
Lest we cling to vain notions of saints in white robes, the human deification of great men and lofty, Boehme provides clarification.
Thou must know that I write not here as a story of history, as if it was related to me from another. I must continually stand in that combat, and I find it to be full of heavy strivings where in I am often struck to the ground, as well as all other men. But for the sake of the violent fight, and for the sake of the earnestness which we have together, this revelation has been given me, and the vehement driving or impulse to bring it so to pass as to set all down on paper … For when the flash rises up in the centre, one sees through and through, but cannot well apprehend or lay hold on it; for it happens to such an one as when there is tempest of lightning, where the flash of fire opens itself and suddenly vanishes. … For the old Adam belongs to the earth, and does not, with the flesh, belong to God. In this combat I had many hard trials to my heart’s grief. My Sun was often eclipsed or extinguished, but did rise again; and the oftener it was eclipsed the bright and clearer was its rising again. I do not write this for my own praise, but to the end that the reader may know wherein my knowledge stands, that he might not seek from me that which I have not, or think me to be what I am not.
Golden Dawn member Evelyn Underhill wrote this of Boehme:
For him, the universe was primarily a religious fact: its fiery energies, its impulse towards growth and change, were significant because they were aspects of the life of God. His cosmic vision was the direct outcome of spiritual experience; he told it, because he wished to stimulate in all men the spiritual life, make them realise that ‘Heaven and Hell are present everywhere, and it is but the turning of the will either into God’s love or into His wrath, that introduceth into them’.
While some might find this language too Christian or ‘Godly’, there is plenty of evidence of ‘God’s love’ in Chapter One of the Book of the Law. There is also an abundance of what Boehme would term as God’s ‘wrath’ in the third chapter of that remarkable testimonial to the enduring power of ancient Egyptian magick. If we look for the meaning behind the metaphors, especially when that language has flowed from the hand of a mystic through the heart’s fountain of direct spiritual knowledge, we generally find there is only one spiritual path in reality. The diversity, the apparent choice of a path to follow, is the appearance of a doorway and not the entrance or the place where it may lead.


© Oliver St. John 2017, 2018
This essay is part of the collection, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].

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