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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.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Thelemic Magical Doctrine of the Afterlife

This article is taken from the Appendices, The Mystic Tarot and the Trees of Eternity.

The Afterlife is a subject frequently ignored. It is generally assumed that the esotericist accepts the doctrine of reincarnation. The mutant version of metempsychosis, or reincarnation, became increasingly popular in the Western world from the time of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and onwards. The doctrine is relatively modern, appearing in the middle of the first millennium in both Greek and Hindu philosophy, Orphism and the Vedas. Greek scholars dispute that Plato, who wrote about it, accepted the doctrine as it has come to be understood.

 Astral Body and Ghost, Austin Osman Spare

Astral Body and Ghost by Austin Osman Spare

The modern notion of reincarnation owes to the classical interpretation of a doctrine shrouded in mystery. If we look at the context of the time in which the classical interpretation emerged then reincarnation becomes less mysterious. The doctrine coincided with the rise of ascetic patriarchal cults. It coincided with the time when priestesses of the elder Gods were thrown out of the temples or forced into prostitution. It coincided with the Zealots and Pharisees demanding obedience to religious law and the falsification of biblical scriptures. It coincides with the decline of the ancient Egyptian civilisation, preparing the way for the Hellenistic era and then oblivion. It coincides with the creation of extreme yoga methods aimed at physical purity. The doctrine coincides with abolition by nation states of what were already ‘the old ways’ two and a half thousand years ago, including exceedingly antique magical practices such as divination and oracles.

The thrust of classical reincarnation is that it works on a merit system. If you do good, you will achieve reincarnation in a higher life form. If you do evil, you will be reborn as a dog, a toad, a worm or a demon. This concept depends on a strictly hierarchical view of nature consisting of higher life forms and lower life forms, where man is assumed to be the pinnacle of creation. The doctrine coincides with that of spirit seen as the opposer of nature—that nature is to be overcome, to be made submissive to the superior might of man. Once we embrace the idea that the soul can be pure, then we must account for impurity and sin. Once we believe a soul can be rewarded in the afterlife then we must believe the soul can be punished for iniquity. The Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 22, refutes all classical notions of purity and sin:

It is a lie, this folly against self. The exposure of innocence is a lie. Be strong, o man! lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture: fear not that any God shall deny thee for this.

Liber AL vel Legis makes the case against reincarnation and in favour of eternal transcendence perfectly clear:

II: 9 Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass and are done; but there is that which remains. II: 21 Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolves he shall remain in pure ecstasy forever. II: 44 Aye! feast! rejoice! there is no dread hereafter. There is the dissolution, and the eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Nu. II: 49 I am not of the slaves that perish. II: 66 Thy death shall be the seal of the promise of our agelong love. II: 73 Death is forbidden, o man, unto thee.

If consciousness is extinguished with the death of the body then our lives are a bad joke; there is no meaning or purpose in anything. That which is encrypted in Liber AL vel Legis is plainly not a doctrine of reincarnation. It is a doctrine of immortality. When the “body of the King” dissolves, that is, the human ego or ahamkhara dissolves, there is “that which remains”—the immortal principle. The popularity of classical reincarnation nonetheless continues unabated. After all, if we believe we are going to ‘come back’ over countless lifetimes, there is hardly any pressing need to do something called a Great Work.

Doctrines far more ancient than metempsychosis supposed the dead to live on in an ancestral spirit or dream world, sometimes called the underworld. The ancestral spirits could then be contacted at particular times, or when there was a need. Such practices continue to this day in some parts of the world, in the cults of Voudon, for example. The ancient Egyptians supported many doctrines, many Gods or Neters, and many pantheons. The folk tradition was not too dissimilar from other folk traditions around the world. The vital Ka or spirit body of the deceased was presumed to live on in the underworld or Duat, and offerings of food, drink and flowers were to be made regularly at the tomb to preserve the existence of the ancestors. If the offerings were not made then the Ka might become a vampire and seek sustenance from among the living.

The transcendence of the soul, the achievement of immortality, was an esoteric doctrine and not a folk tradition among the ancient Egyptians. It was preserved for pharaohs, high priests and other Initiates. Likewise with the Eastern tradition—which has it that Atman, the immortal principle, is able to reincarnate in countless different bodies and forms. The doctrine does not admit to the possibility of the soul being born again and again ‘as itself’. Hindu classical scholars are well aware of this, and are very careful when interpreting the Bhagavad Gita, for example, to point out that it is Atman that reincarnates, not the human ego—which has no essential substance or ground.

There is a magical doctrine that is, as yet, little known even among esotericists. This concerns the changing conditions of the Afterlife in different Aeons or ages of time. We have now entered, to all intents and purposes, the Age of Aquarius in terms of the astronomical precession of the equinoxes. In the symbolism of the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, this equates to Hrumachis or Hormaku. Hormaku is another name for the Sphinx of Egypt or God of Two Horizons. In the current precessional age, the Sun rises in Aquarius at the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere of the globe. The sign on the Descendant is Leo the Lion – the magical “Beast” of Thelemic literature.

The sky goddess, Nuit-Babalon, is therefore the principal Neter or deity of the times. The Lion of the Night, Leo, is the deity or Neter that determines the magical conditions in the underworld—the land of the dead. There follows an extract from the magical diary Record of Frater B., 19th May 2014, which serves to convey the import of the new precessional cycle. During a magical operation to clairvoyantly skry the 13th Enochian Aethyr, ZIM, a conversation with the magical Lion or Beast of Leo transpired:

He is vast, and his eyes are terrible. He is the eater of souls, and has no mercy on the weak. He is the personification of the “battle of conquest” mentioned in Liber L … truth and swift justice now reigns in the underworld. Souls no longer wait their time, and there are few ghosts that can cling to the bosom of the earth. Rather, it is a trap in which they sink. Thus the Lion is merciless with his prey. The Wordless Aeon is a dumb aeon, seek it not! Why? – Because they wait by the door, and there is no time in which they recollect. The echoes of silence react upon blood. I will eat them.

There is a Great Work to be done. Spiritual work is meditation, and that must be done systematically, on a regular daily basis, with a method. The only measure of a magical Order is that it must consist of individuals who have pledged themselves unconditionally to helping others with the Great Work. “Self-initiation” is patently absurd; it would be as though a person can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. On the other hand doing a Great Work means cultivating the ability to work alone and in silence. For most people in the present age of machines, pharmaceutical drugs, advertising and technological hypnotism, that is impossible. They lack the will and courage to displease anyone, especially their self.

The Thelemic source work says, “The Law is for All”. Those words were misinterpreted. “All” does not mean “every”. It means that no one is excluded through race, religion, creed or status of wealth. But it does not mean everyone is going to perform something called a Great Work, or even realise there is a need to do anything. “Many are called but few are chosen”, as it is put in the book of Matthew, 22: 14. Many guests may be invited to a wedding but few will put aside their material and mundane preoccupations and turn up on the great day.

The value of Aleister Crowley is that he explained Hermetic Science in terms that could be understood by a future generation intoxicated with narcissistic self-obsession. We might otherwise have drowned amidst the idiotic noise of pop culture without any hope of reaching shore. Paradoxically, Aleister Crowley—or a cartoon caricature of the man—has been embraced by pop culture. For the most part, this means no more than wearing a t-shirt or proudly displaying a tattoo. The weakling, the drunkard, needs a hero to be stirred into action. The anti-hero is merely an elaborate hoax employed by the cynic.

There may be a greater calamity to suffer than desecration of the sacred. It is necessary to define this term, “desecration”. There is a world of difference between desecration and blasphemy. Blasphemy is a religious convention, and means “slander”. Desecration is the opposite of consecration, which means, “to reserve” or “set aside” for a special purpose. Something desecrated is simply not special anymore; a thing is, or has become, commonplace. We are not going to offend any God by psychologising the mysteries or making capital by trivialising them. If we believe that nothing is sacred, then nothing will be sacred for us. This has no effect on spiritual Reality but it does have a real impact on oneself, for it sets a limit on the Eternal. In the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, such limitation is called the Sin of Restriction:

I: 41 The word of Sin is Restriction. O man! refuse not thy wife, if she will! O lover, if thou wilt, depart! There is no bond that can unite the divided but love: all else is a curse. Accurséd! Accurséd be it to the aeons! Hell.

How then, may we do a Great Work? The preceding verse describes three grades or spiritual types:

I: 40 Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The Man of Earth grade corresponds to the dogmatic and literal interpretation of scriptures and other codified precepts for moral governance as typified by the world religions. In secular societies, obedience to scriptural law has been transferred to the belief that material science can explain existence through linear causation. Scriptural law and rationalism are creeds equally based on arbitrary values. In both cases, obedience is an absolute requirement for citizenship. From the point of the Lover and Hermit, the Man of Earth dwells in an unhappy state of ignorance and unknowing. The grade of the Lover embraces the practice and understanding of the universal symbolism and language of the mysteries. This begins with acquiring an intellectual understanding of the work. Understanding in the full sense of the word cannot be gained at this level.

The grade of the Hermit corresponds to Gnosis or direct insight through meditation and theurgic practices. From the point of view of religion and material science, Gnosis constitutes sin or error, for clairvoyance in the true sense of the word—“seeing things clearly”—has always contradicted religious and scientific dogma. From about half way through the first millennium BCE magical practices were gradually outlawed by emerging nation states. In the Western world material science has now largely usurped the role of religion in defining what must be believed—and therefore, obeyed. The key to overcoming religious and scientific dogma and obtaining Gnosis is simple. Yet only the brave will dare turn that key in the lock of the mystery door, for it requires turning one’s back on many comforting delusions to seek Reality. As put in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 25:

Ye are against the people, O my chosen!

View the book, The Mystic Tarot and the Trees of Eternity

© Oliver St. John 2015