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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.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Thelema: Romance of the Magical Orders

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

“What is a valid magical Order?” “What is Thelema?” These are frequently asked questions. As there seems to be so much doubt and confusion around Thelemic magical Orders, I am going to take the bold step of defining what constitutes “validity” in so far as that can be ascertained. I will also provide an in-depth examination of what Thelema really is, as opposed to what is commonly believed about it. I will include a discussion of the Rosicrucian ideal, the magical philosophy and cosmology of Thelema, and the Magisterium, in other terms, the secret rites of Initiation.

The following essay is also the subject of a podcast. View the podcast here or subscribe to it through iTunes here.

The Silver Star
Richel Collection No.1489 Silver Star or AA

The illustration is from a print, issue no.2, given to me courtesy of Graham King, at one time the curator of the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, where the original is now held. The symbol is reputed to be from a German faction of the Order of the A.'. A.'. The imagery shows clearly that the Order is best summed up by the 13th path of The Priestess of the Silver Star, Tarot Atu II. Between the pillar of fire (force) and the pillar of water (form) stands the sword or yoni of the priestess of the path of Gimel. The whole figure is that of Mercury, inverted, suggestive of the self-slain Adept skrying the runes of knowledge in the depths of the Abyss or roots of the Tree of Life. The figure also affirms that the 93 Current of Thelema is a lunar-feminine mystery.

It will help to quote here a passage from our treatise on the subject, The Law of Thelema—Quantum Yoga:

“In the year 1904 while in Cairo, Egypt, Aleister and Rose Crowley unwittingly earthed the magical transmission or prophetic utterance named Liber AL vel Legis, the Book of the Law. The contents of the book are rooted in the Egyptian Gnostic Tradition. More particularly, the book reveals the Great Work of the Egyptian priests of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, Initiates who vowed to become Ma-Kheru—one whose “word is made perfect in Maat”. The Great Work of the Initiatic cult of Ankh-af-na-khonsu was the magical transmutation of the soul and the knowledge of the spiritual and natural law governing this operation. The formula of this opus was recorded on the funeral stone of one such Initiate, and is called the Stele of Revealing, of which Liber AL vel Legis is a theurgical activation.”

Thelema is frequently described as a “magical system” but it is no such thing in reality. Neither is it any kind of religion, though it has some affinities with Gnosticism. The magick of Thelema is a transmission. A valid Thelemic magical Order, no matter what name it goes by, transmits a particular stream of consciousness—which we term as the 93 Current—by which men and women can obtain Gnosis, direct revelation. The purpose of such revelation is to become free from imprisonment in the artificial construct that is commonly thought to be “reality”. Such an aim cannot, ipso facto, be fulfilled through any social or political agenda. As it is declared at the beginning of the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 11:
These are fools that men adore; both their Gods and their men are fools.
The Egyptian Book of the Law was dictated to Aleister Crowley via the agency of a praeterhuman Intelligence, named Aiwass in the book. It is the aim of magick to obtain contact with such Intelligences.

The Rosicrucian Ideal

The ideal that Aleister Crowley continued from the old Rosicrucian legacy was that Initiation only becomes valid when the person is absolutely dedicated to service, meaning, they will sacrifice everything to help others on the path if they are so chosen. If they are not in contact with the Intelligences we have spoken of, and if they are not dedicated wholly to service, then they run the risk of becoming:

1. A Black Brother
2. Insane

A “Black Brother”, in the peculiar language of the Western Mystery Tradition, is one that believes, or that wishes others to believe, that the material universe is the sole reality. A Black Brother may be a scientist, but may equally be a theologian, religious leader or philosopher in the modern sense of the word—the masks are endless in their variety. According to Kenneth Grant, in the Introduction to Part Two of Nightside of Eden:
The atavisms of the Black Brothers are the sterile stars born of the speechless or lisping Aeon, for the Word may be vibrated without distortion only via the menstruum of the female.
Thelema, then, is a lunar and feminine mystery. This should come as no surprise, since the first chapter of Liber AL vel Legis is an oracle from the ancient Egyptian goddess Nuit, comparable to the more recent Laylah or Lilith, the name given to “Night” in the Bible.

It is helpful to know that a magical Order formed in the Rosicrucian tradition typified by the triune Order of the Golden Dawn, Order of the Rosy Cross and Order of the Silver Star, must offer highly specialised training and work structured around grades of Initiation based on the Hermetic Tree of Life. Any person that founds an Order of the Golden Dawn–that is, the first five grades from Probationer to Philosophus–must be in contact with the three higher degrees of the Order of the Rosy Cross. Anyone that founds an Order of the Rosy Cross must be in contact with the supernal Order of the Silver Star. Simple? Yes, it is. The Tree of Life begins with Kether—it is not possible to start a Rosicrucian magical Order from a position somewhere halfway down the Tree, and pretend there is nothing above. However, the titles afforded these magical Orders are poetic metaphors for a consciousness current. They are not brand names for historical clubs or archaic fraternities that depend on apostolic succession after the manner of Christian bishops. Nuit has declared an ending of such words in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, I: 59:
My incense is of resinous woods and gums; and there is no blood therein: because of my hair the trees of Eternity.
Qabalistically speaking, there is a Flaming Sword or Lightning Flash that runs clear down the planes from Kether the Crown to Malkuth the Kingdom, the world of shells—where things appear and disappear, where creatures are born and die. When the 93 Current reaches Malkuth, it streaks back up the Tree to Kether. The way of Initiation through the grades is the way of ascent, and that is a way of involution. To evolve is to descend the Tree of Life from Kether to Malkuth.

The Plurality of the Star: the Authentic Tradition

There are various factions of the Order founded by Aleister Crowley, known generically as the A.'. A.'. It has become quite common for Orders with this title to claim exclusive “lineage” and rights to the name, and it is probably for this reason that some groups prefer to be mysterious—or even mysteriously ignorant!—as to what the abbreviated title actually stands for. It is no secret. Kenneth Grant, who studied the manuscripts and diaries of Aleister Crowley at first hand, revealed that Aster Argos or Silver Star is the poetic title of the Rosicrucian-based magical Order. Aleister Crowley took the name “Silver Star” from the esoteric title of the Tarot image of the 13th path of Gimel, The Priestess II. The 13 path or Priestess of the Silver Star extends from Kether the Crown of the Tree of Life to Tiphereth, the centre of the Ruach Elohim. The path is also called The Uniting Intelligence, or Intelligence of the Unities in the Sepher Yetzirah. Note that the word used, “Unities”, is plural as it appears in the Hebrew text, it is not singular.

An authentic name (there is more than one) can be found in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Shemsu en Khabs, “followers in the way of the star”, “company of the star”, or "company of heaven". As revealed by Nuit in Liber AL vel Legis, I: 1–4:
Had! The manifestation of Nuit.
The unveiling of the company of heaven.
Every man and every woman is a star.
Every number is infinite; there is no difference.
Shemsu en Khabs, or the Company of Heaven, also describes the ancient Egyptian Theban Initiatic cult of Ankh af-na-khonsu. Our knowledge of this cult owes to the Stele of Revealing, which Aleister and Rose Crowley discovered in the Boulak museum, Cairo in 1904. The funeral stele has that title because it reveals the true or authentic Thelema. Every Initiate is given the name Ankh af-na-khonsu, the oracular voice or prophet that is the “Life and Soul of the Moon”. Thelema is a lunar and stellar cult. Khonsu embodies the Logos, Thoth, and Horus the Phoenix bird of resurrection or Holy Guardian Angel. An Initiate must be able to stand before Menthu—which is a name of Typhon—and say without any faltering or internal consternation or doubts:
I am the inspired forth speaker of Menthu, the prophet Ankh af-na-khonsu, whose words are truth.

Star against Star, System against System

Anyone can purchase a set of the volumes of The Equinox, take the requisite Oaths and form a body of men and women and call it the A.'. A.'. if they wish. If the Shemsu en Khabs should contact them, and inform them, and they do not lose their minds as a consequence, then they might open the ways for a few more sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to obtain liberation. That is the only thing that matters.

Thelema: the Word of the Law

The Greek word Thelema is the “word of the Law” as stated in Liber AL vel Legis, I: 39. It is not a law of scriptures or decrees or any doctrine or body of religious teachings. While many persons wish to regard Thelema as a religion, based upon the writings of one Aleister Crowley, such followers are necessarily worshippers of the “gods of men” as defined in the one Thelemic source work other than the Stele of Revealing. In Liber AL vel Legis, III: 49:
I am in a secret fourfold word, the blasphemy against all gods of men.
The “fourfold word” is Do what thou wilt. The Law of Thelema is wholly a spiritual and natural one, not a human one. Some but not all human beings have this secret nature within them, and of those, some are chosen to discover it. There is nothing new about Thelema; it is not limited by time. The word Thelema means, “will”—not the personal will that imagines it has deterministic power, but the impersonal will-force that is called Hadit. A comparative and perhaps better-known deity is Shiva in the Tantrik tradition, the supreme creator and destroyer of the universe.

Thelema, “will”, and Agape, “love”, both add to 93 by Greek Qabalah, and that is why we refer to the “93 Current”. As the word Thelema is Qabalistically identical to Agape—spiritual love, not romantic or erotic love—the 93 Current well expresses the spiritual Intelligence of the universe going forth. Consciousness exists everywhere in the universe, though it is not of the universe that we perceive, and can never be known for it is the Knower, otherwise termed Hadit. As declared by the Serpent of Knowledge, Hadit, in the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis II: 3–4:
In the sphere I [Hadit] am everywhere the centre, as she [Nuit], the circumference, is nowhere found. Yet she shall be known and I never.
As consciousness is everywhere, it is not limited to the earth and the human species that has infected the planet with an artificial construct it likes to think of as “intelligence”. Wild birds and creatures are in fact sentient, in contradiction to the prevailing scientism that has formed its doctrines around the need to preserve and continue the artificial hell in which Adam and Eve are imprisoned until they come to know the true state of affairs.

Thelemic Cosmology

All cosmologies are misleading. The best sense of the word “cosmology” is the literal one, from the Greek: “a conversation about the universe”. However, that is not the meaning of the term as it is commonly understood. Metaphysics is also misleading, because the academic understanding of that word is only “about the matter”, the physics, and that paved the way for modern scientism. The ancients had an entirely different way of thinking that cannot be grasped by dogmatic reasoning, whether that is slanted towards scientism, religion or religious theology. As it is succinctly put in Liber AL vel Legis, II: 32:
Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite and unknown; and all their words are skew-wise.
Ancient metaphysics (aeons before the term was coined) was based on detailed observation of nature, no different from the Thelemic love under will. Originally, there was only one Tree of Life that was also a Tree of Knowledge. If, when we wish to sound the holy name in Kether, we forget the old word of Moses and instead invoke AShRH, the “woman”—from whose fragrance or shakti emanations came forth the tree from which the gods were sprung—we can begin to put matters right. Naturally, it is for each to find this or not. As a cognate study, there is a wonderful work of ancient art, the Burney Relief held by the British Museum, which has come to be known as “Lilith”, the “Queen of the Night”. It is actually Ishtar, the happy goddess of the three worlds, queen of heaven, earth and the underworld. It is the same three worlds that are depicted on the Stele of Revealing.

The “evil” connotations of Lilith, the “woman of sin”, came about at the same time that emerging nation states censured all magick, divination and prophecy. It came about when the priestesses, the singers and the dancers, the pythonesses, were thrown out of the temples and forced into prostitution. Why was magick forbidden? Because when people obtain direct insight into the mysteries they know at once, in one single moment, that all human and scriptural law is fake.

The gods of Liber AL vel Legis are interchangeable, as are all Egyptian gods or Neters (“principles”). They can be different things on different planes—as is the Holy Guardian Angel, another metaphor. There is a kind of Thelemic Trinity implied in the structure of Liber AL vel Legis, and also in the Stele of Revealing, the only fragment we have of the original Theban Thelemic cult of Ankh af-na-khonsu. There is also a trinity of sorts in the original title of the book, “L”, as 30. The primal trinity is the Qabalistic Binah, the root of all form, the cosmic Matrix or womb.

The Setian Gnosis—the Hermetic one, not that of Kenneth Grant—has a trinity of spirit or fragrance, light and dark. The light and dark had no moral implications of good or evil, for that came along much later with dualistic reasoning. The fragrance, or spirit—we could say the Intelligence—permeates the light and dark equally, it knows them, and from this is formed the womb, the Matrix.

Magisterium: Spiritual and Magical Attainment

The original meaning of the word Magisterium is “pertaining to a mystery or secret rite”. Once the Magisterium gets into the hands of the patriarchs of Constantinople, we all begin to wish we had kept the rites of Mithras in the subterranean vaults where they belong. No one can own or possess the Magisterium. Anyone can proclaim that they do, but—sooner or later—people will find them out. All magical Orders, their custodians and adepts, their “teachings”, their Magisterium, belong to the Order of Qliphoth, the Qabalistic World of Shells. What we see is what we are. Hence, the utter impossibility of teaching anything to anyone about magick let alone anything really spiritual.

One of the snares in the system of grades expounded by Aleister Crowley is that Crowley’s writings repeat the word “attainment” hundreds of times—as though there were something to attain, and someone to attain it; this can have a hypnotic effect on the serious student. Attainment, as with Crowley’s definition of “magick”, places an emphasis on the verb “to do”, “to act”. In some ways, the book Magick was the worst book Crowley ever wrote. By setting forth to show that magick is no different than material science, Crowley inadvertently opened the path to reductionism and psychologisation by future generations born of a Wordless Aeon. However, we are in a realm where language will always limit us unless we think differently. The different mode of thinking can be described in the metaphor of the backwards flowing Setian stream, and yet it cannot be taught; magick is not what you do, or attain or can get, but what you are.

Another snare of attainment is that Aleister Crowley made quite a lot of romantic fuss and bluster about the Great Work, often playing himself up as the great man, whether with irony intended or not. The unfurling of the mighty banners of One Star in Sight, rewritten from Eckhartshousen’s Cloud on the Sanctuary, comes amidst much theatrical smoke and bombast. Secret Adepts of Awesome Greatness walk even upon this very earth, if you can but find Them, or They find you. It may even be true, but it can be very flattering to the ego even of a Neophyte. How much more to the Adeptus Major that has invoked a strain upon the universe that would break the back of any mule carrying a master into Jerusalem?

What I have to say next might possibly offend some of the more deluded fans or devotees of the man Aleister Crowley, but it has to be said: There were other people in Aleister Crowley’s time that had better knowledge than he did, and who made less noise about their so-called attainment; there is a well-known biblical saying, from Matthew 7: 17:
Ye shall know them by their fruits.
The German writer, Gustav Meyrink, demonstrated through works of fiction such as The Golem and Angel of the West Window that he had knowledge of Vajroli Tantras, and was able to integrate his knowledge of the so-called Left-hand path into the Western Mystery Tradition without trouble. However, The Golem was not translated into English until 1995, and Angel of the West Window in 1991. To conclude, I will quote from a new book I have written, one that deals with Thelema, the work of Kenneth Grant and the writings of H. P. Lovecraft:
In the writing of the book [Liber AL vel Legis], Crowley sought signs and tokens of power. It becomes evident half way through the second chapter that the praeterhuman contacts were already beginning to withdraw, leaving the man, Aleister Crowley, to his fate. Those who grasp for power become the slave of impersonal forces. Gustav Mahler completed his 9th and final symphony in the year 1909, about the same time that the English occultist Aleister Crowley was looking for his golf clubs in an attic—discovering instead the manuscript of his abandoned Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis. Crowley had forgotten the book for the previous five years. Perhaps there seemed to be nothing in it for him. Whatever the reasons for the lapse of memory, by his own account he fell into a trance-like state, forgot the golf clubs and started working out a role for himself as World Teacher. The 9th symphony of Mahler could be an ode to a Master of the Temple; it is brimful of the Trance of Sorrow and of Wonder. Fortunately, Mahler did not write that incredible score in the hope of leaving behind a legacy of triumphant magical Orders for people to get mixed up about a century or so in the future. All we have to do is listen, and hear how our Brave New World will end. Mahler’s final symphony, often understood as being a “farewell to the world”, is a farewell to the whole Romantic era. Weird dissonance, reflective of mystery and unfathomable silence overwhelms the architecture of the Order of the Rose Cross; the conventions of harmony die away with the ever-maddened song of the Nightingale in Oscar Wilde’s Nightingale and the Rose. The last sweet echoes fade amidst the ominous and tuneless fluting that accompanies the Lovecraftian tales of Cthulhu. At the end of all is the chasm, the yawning Abyss, the limit of all man’s vain striving. The beautiful dream passes like the last glory of summer, burnt out in the autumnal embers. Aleister Crowley clung on to that dream for all he was worth—and who can blame him?
Love is the law, love under will.

©
Oliver St. John 2016

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