Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Thelemic Hinduism" -- my take on Mr. Crowley

When asked, I frequently define myself as a “Thelemic Hindu.” Most people get the Hindu part, but they don’t understand the Thelemic part. Trying to explain my interest in Thelemic philosophy is often difficult, especially once Aleister Crowley is mentioned. Many folks do not know who Crowley is, and those who do, unless they are Thelemites themselves, have an erroneous impression of him, due to the rumors that abounded about the man the late 19th and early 20th century.

I used to be a department head in a university library—I now work at the same library in a different job. While I was there as department head, our director at the time had amassed a large number of special collections. One of these contained a number of occult materials.

One of the items in this collection was a first edition of Aleister Crowley’s novel, “Moonchild.” I had heard of Crowley, but had read very little of his work, and I picked up the book to look at. The director came in, and saw me looking at it. “Don’t ever read anything by that man,” he said. “He’s evil.”
“Oh really?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. He then went on to tell me how Crowley was expelled from a number of countries for his black magic rituals. Our director was a conservative Christian man, and very concerned about what he perceived as evil in the world. I listened to what he had to say. Then I went home, and proceeded to dig out the Crowley books in my collection and read them. Nothing interests me more than someone whom I am exhorted to stay away from.

My interest in Crowley was piqued farther when a couple of years later, when I met my good friend Frater P. We both work in the same field, and found that we were interested in the same type of materials. The Crowley conversation started over the unicursal hexagram pendant that I was wearing that day. He has a very keen interest in Crowley and his circle, and a great enthusiasm for Crowley’s writings that was infectious.

The more I read of Crowley, the more I liked him. He was not evil at all, in my estimation—he was blatantly outspoken about what was wrong with institutionalized religion. When I worked on my graduate degree in religion at Drew University, I found that I had a lot of the same criticisms of modern Christianity as Crowley, and his unabashed style was just wonderful to me. It was no wonder that he was regarded as such an evil personage—those who work towards finding truth, and speak about it freely, are often vilified by those interested in preserving the status quo.

Crowley’s magical writings are rather intense, and even practiced ceremonial magicians have a difficult time gaining full understanding of his writings. For those who have never read Crowley and are not magicians, I always recommend looking to Crowley’s fiction as a first step—The Scrutinies of Simon Iff is a collection of Crowley’s detective stories, and are not as tedious as his novels. Moonchild was a fascinating read, but the ending is disappointing to anyone who doesn’t understand the point Crowley is trying to make about such magical operations.

The most famous phrase associated with Crowley is “Do what thou Wilt,” or the longer version: “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, love under Will.” The capital letters are important here. Thelema is actually the Greek word for Will.
“Do what thou Wilt” is not a license to hedonism, as many have interpreted it. A man or woman in pursuit of their Will needs to be quite disciplined. In short—the idea of pursuing one’s Will is a very simple axiom for anyone. “Will” can be compared to God’s Will, or the Purpose of one’s life—the reason for being born, coming into existence. Quite simply, to pursue one’s Will is to find out their purpose in this life, and dedicate one’s time to fulfilling that purpose. One should not waste time pursuing things that are contrary to one’s Will. For all of Crowley’s eccentricities, he believed his philosophy fully and practiced it fully—every act he engaged in was to further what he believed his Will to be. He did not feel it was his duty to bow to social norms, or conventional religion. Most folks are scared off by his moniker, “The Great Beast 666.” But Crowley felt it was his duty to bring an end to Christianity, and he saw himself in an anti-Christian role. He wrote a drama called The World’s Tragedy, about the coming of Christianity into the world. In his preface to the play, he explains that he is not against Jesus Christ as a person, or a God, or whatever—he is against what the established order has done with Jesus’s teachings. This is what he wanted to end, and he wanted human beings to fully understand their connection to the Divine—“Every man and every woman is a star”. Institutionalized religion is designed to keep people away from this connection.

To be fair, there are many folks who are not anywhere near ready to make this mystical connection, and for them, organized religion can be a safe introduction to these mysteries. But the seeker who wants to break out of the confines of dogma often finds him or herself in a spiritual crisis—Crowley was one individual who hoped to end this crisis. His bizarre behavior was often an attempt to break someone of their worldview. This is not unlike Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda works—Don Juan gives Carlos peyote in order to shake him up. Carlos is an anthropologist, walking around with his notebook. Don Juan frequently makes fun of him for this, and works to show Carlos that the world is not what it appears to be—and even the “alternate reality” Don Juan shows him isn’t the bottom line. Crowley wanted to serve a similar function in the world.

One of the key Thelemite texts is The Book of the Law, and the Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O. (a magical society that is currently based largely on Crowley’s teachings) has the Gnostic Mass as its central ritual. I have participated in the Mass both as clergy and as an observer, and I can tell you that it is an extremely beautiful ritual with incredible transformative power. I have never been unmoved by a Gnostic Mass. Those who wish to equate it with a Black Mass are totally ignorant, purely and simply. O.T.O. works on the highest level to not only transform its members, but to bring everyone in the world to their true Will. After participating in the Gnostic Mass communion, it is easy to understand how it accomplishes this.

The complaints that I have heard about the O.T.O. are the same complaints that I might hear about any organized group—egos can get in the way, and there are petty squabbles. This is simply human nature, and not the result of any failing in the organization. If everyone in the organization was a fully realized human being, perhaps there would not be such squabbles. Fully-realized human beings are exceedingly rare, and they don’t need any religious organization, because they’ve already achieved the thing that the organization is trying to get them to. To use one of my favorite quotes: “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” In Hinduism, it is understood that yogis do not need to follow the same constraints on behavior that other seekers do, because they’ve already transcended them.

How does this fit in with Hinduism? Really, Thelema fits in with any religion, or none at all. However—the Hindu concepts of maya (the world as we perceive it is an illusion) and dharma (acting according to one’s appointed role in life—i.e. one’s Will) have no conflict with Thelemic philosophy.

There is much more that could be said, but I could probably fill a book, or start an entirely separate blog on the subject.

Some links that I could recommend on Thelema and Crowley for the interested:

There are many more—feel free to comment with others. 93 93/93

Brigid Nischala

Today's "What do you think?"

If you don't read The Onion, you should. Besides the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, it is my only other news source. You may wonder why I don't watch local news or CNN or (ha-ha) Fox News, and it's because I never get the real story on those shows. Satire has more truth to it than anything that passes for journalism on any of those stations.

I love the Onion's "What do you think?" Here is today's:

The Onion

Misbehavior Linked To Day Care

A recent study showed that children who attended day care for a year or longer were more likely to be disruptive in grade school. What do you...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Words speak louder than actions

I'll be going to see the Colbert Report in NY in about 3 weeks. This is one of my favorite clips from that show (and there are many favorites). Interestingly--while Google is pulling these things off of YouTube like crazy, they are available on Google Video. Hmm...

George Bush: Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Snow-day randomness

It’s been awhile since I’ve added to this blog. A lot of my recent efforts have been fictional—I do intend to present these, but not as a part of this blog. Hence, the more “serious” musings on culture have taken a back seat as of late.
Speaking of such things—today it is snowing where I am, after having an 81-degree day two days ago. I can’t express in words how this truly sucks. I did not have to work today (off for Spring Break, ironically enough), so I have been trapped in my home with two psychotic cats, a box of Thin Mints, and a bottle of Smoking Loon cabernet sauvignon.
Such a predicament usually drives my mind into bizarre directions, not all of them useful or purposeful. With all of the major problems in the world today—terrorism, war, poverty, illness, to name a few—I have been pondering the seemingly small but potentially deadly and completely random evils of the world. The impact of these evils is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent with nothing to do. Here is the list I have come up with so far:

1. iPod earbuds
2. The Girl Scouts and their diabolical cookies
3. Don Henley (and anything to do with the Eagles)
4. Boolean search engines
5. Lite beer

Not a huge list—I’m sure that some of you could think of others. Here is my explanation of this list:

1. iPod earbuds: Maybe I am the only one with this problem—but I cannot walk anywhere with my iPod without adjusting my earbuds approximately 97 times. No matter how much slack the wires connecting the earbuds to the iPod actually have, it always feels like they’re being torn out when I make any sudden moves. I do not understand how people jog or do upper body workouts with these damn things. And those stupid little black pieces of fabric that are supposed to cover them—they get lost all the time. If you try to put the earbuds in without this flimsy piece of fabric, it feels like you are sticking a knife in your ear. Add that to the hearing loss that is supposed to accompany excessive use of earbuds, and the clever way the wires get tangled within seconds after taking them out of your ears—and you’ve got a pretty good conspiracy theory.
2. Girl scout cookies: A friend of mine recently told me about 2 arrests in the school system she works in—one was a special ed teacher busted for using coke and heroin. The other was an administrator who supposedly locked himself in his office naked and started doing crystal meth. (Geez, whatever happened to sneaking a hit off of a joint in the bathroom?)
In any event—in the category of less serious but still potentially deadly addictions, I add Girl Scout cookies. Girl Scout cookies are pure evil—I don’t know how else to describe it. They are pushed on you by family and friends with a daughter or a niece, or some pre-pubescent female who needs to sell cookies to earn a “merit badge”. For the most part, you don’t see Girl Scouts going door to door anymore. It’s a shame really, because I could actually avoid them that way—most of the time I am not home, or good at pretending not to be home. This was a survival skill learned when the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses started cruising our neighborhood. One of my pet peeves in the world is door-to-door religion sales. I have an unreasonable amount of anger when I see the fake and condescending smiles of missionaries, so it is better for both parties if I avoid them altogether.
But back to the Girl Scouts—unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are not allowed to spread their literature in the workplace, there is always someone in the office with the order form for Girl Scout cookies. If it doesn’t happen at work, they wait outside of the local grocery stores. This is an immediate gratification scenario—you don’t have to wait for the boxes to come in—they’re right there in front of you. And me, the helpless enraged addict that I am, always walk away with 3 boxes—those peanut butter Tagalog things, the Samoas, and most deadly of all—Thin Mints. I could eat an entire box in one sitting. I did that today, in fact. Shiva, my big black cat who looks like a ferret, came down to watch me. I yelled at him, “Why are you just sitting there, dammit? Stop me!” But Shiva let me down—for a cat that will jump up and grab almost anything out of my hands, he was content to sit there and sniff at the cookie box. I’m betting he gets a commission from the cookie distributors.
Incidentally, I learned that the Girl Scouts as an organization make very little money from their cookies. For the 5 bucks per box (or whatever it is now) that you pay, they usually see less than 1 dollar of the profits. Pretty crappy return on effort, if you ask me.

3.Don Henley : When I was in college, my friend Liz and I came up with the theory that the Eagles as a group are responsible for most of the minor evils in the world, although we also suspected them of causing international terrorist crises as well (this was about 10 years before Sept. 11).
Why Don Henley and/or the Eagles, you may ask? It’s hard to give a rational answer. Like any complex social science problem, it’s a matter of how you interpret the data. What we discovered is that every major thing that went wrong—whether it was the car breaking down, doing poorly on an exam, breaking up with one’s latest boyfriend, or whatever—was always preceding by hearing an Eagles song, usually the dreaded “Hotel California”. You may say it was a coincidence, but it was too common of a coincidence for our tastes. Soon this rumor was rampant on what was then the Montclair State College campus, and you would hear people bring it up at random on the student quad. Many of them tested the theory and found it to be true. Everything really hit rock bottom when Don Henley actually came to a local mall to promote his Walden Woods charity. Liz and I had at least 4 major crises apiece that week, which did not abate until Mr. Henley took off for somewhere else out of state. This led to the modified theory of Eagles-evilness:

1. Hearing any Eagles song is usually a precursor to bad luck, or can at least be considered an inauspicious omen.
2. Hearing songs by individual Eagles is also inauspicious, although there is a sliding scale of evilness. From most evil to least evil: Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Joe Walsh. In fact, it is suspected that Joe Walsh is not really evil at all.
3. There is an antidote against the evilness of Eagles songs—namely, any Beatles song, or song produced by an individual Beatle, with George being the most auspicious, and Ringo being the least, but still effective nonetheless. I always kept a Beatles tape in my car, just in case we were ambushed by an Eagles song while scanning the radio dial. Led Zeppelin songs also work.

I worked in a public library in Northern Morris County for a few months, and discussed this theory with a young woman who was a library page. She liked the Eagles, and was even trying to learn to play Hotel California on her guitar. I warned her that this was a grave mistake, which she just laughed off. The next day, she was out driving, got into an accident, and broke her arm. Coincidence? Maybe. Liz and I don’t think so.
We have not corroborated our theory of evilness with Mojo Nixon’s. After hearing “Don Henley must die,” we assumed that he may have figured this out too, but maybe he just thinks they suck, or at the very least, are overrated.

Having said all of this, I have to admit to actually liking a couple of Don Henley’s songs. We all have an evil streak in us somewhere…

4. Boolean search engines: You will have to indulge me on this one. I am a librarian by trade, specifically a cataloging librarian. (For those of you who know the stereotype of professional catalogers, you will no doubt develop your own theory of how screwed up I must be.)
As a professional cataloger, the fact that Boolean could be the basis of a modern search engine irks me to no end. Good catalogers strive to make material accessible to the public through good description and subject access. That can be cancelled out by a few lousy prepositions. “Not” is a huge culprit. If you go into a Boolean-based default catalog search, you run into the “not” conundrum. God help you if you want to search for a title that has the word “not” in it. “Not without my daughter” is a good one. Try this in any SirsiDynix Unicorn catalog (usually called iBistro or iLink)—you will get 99,000 hits, none of them what you are looking for. This is because the “not” operator cancels out the rest of your search, and from the system’s perspective, you may as well have done a keyword search on a blank search box. I migrated a consortium of 37 libraries to a Sirsi Unicorn system. I remember talking to our sales rep about the catalog. I wanted to search “The Sound and the Fury” as an example title. “Oh no,” she told me, “That’s a bad example. You’d have to search just the words ‘sound’ and ‘fury’ to get the correct result set. Or, you’d have to search the whole title in quotes.”

Sirsi insisted that they do this because they “are creating a search engine for the public, not for librarians.” Sounds like the opposite to me. If you don’t know Boolean logic, you’ll never find a damn thing in the catalog. In an era of natural language searching and Google, this is just plain laziness on the vendor’s part. Google does have a Boolean option, but it’s usually in the advanced search, not the default. Hence, it leads to a greater evil in my opinion—the loss of access to relevant information. Maybe it’s meant to give reference librarians job security. But, as it turns out, most of them don’t know how to use it, either.
This rant comes in the wake of the news that SirsiDynix is no longer developing either the Unicorn or Horizon products, and they’re focusing a on a new platform code-named “Rome.” According to Sirsi’s release, forwarded to me by a former colleague, “Rome” is based on the Unicorn system. The release says it is because of the “quality, stability, and reliability” of the Unicorn platform. Which says to me that their company is sunk, and anyone on any Sirsi system should start working on their RFP for a non-Sirsi system now.

I hate to be so negative about this—I used to be the one who tried to put a positive spin on this system for the libraries I used to work for. I like all of the folks at SirsiDynix, but it is clear that some of the key decision makers are not living in the real world. Maybe working off of the Unicorn platform is the cheapest thing to do, and they are looking at the bottom line. But it’s a case of penny wise and pound foolish. I worked extensively with Unicorn’s last 2 or 3 releases, including the much touted GL3.1, which was supposed to solve all library consortia system issues, and apparently cure cancer and bring world peace in the bargain. All sarcasm aside, GL3.1 was not what it promised at all—it had a better interface, but beyond that, all it did was piss off circulation staff because it kept freezing in the middle of transactions. Some knowledgeable folks outside of Sirsi told us that this was a very stable release of Unicorn, but these were folks who apparently did not use the Reports module, which was totally f**ked up. To make this increasingly long story short—Unicorn is buggier that a wheat field during a plague of locusts. They did fix a few things, but they broke countless other things. They also promised a “fix” for the Boolean problem, but is has never worked—implementing the fix crashed the quick search feature on the catalog.
So—I consider it a great evil that a company that has 40% of the library automation market share has decided to move ahead with outdated technology, which will further drive users away from libraries using these technologies.

5. Lite beer : Yes, time to get away from the trauma of my last job, and move onto something else with less significance. I suppose lite beer is a boon for those who want to go out, have several beers, and not get wasted as quickly. Personally, if I was going to go out to drink lite beer, I’d stick to soda, because that at least has flavor. God bless the makers of Guinness, and save me from Anheuser-Busch.

Now that I’ve had a chance to complain—I will provide a list of top 5 redemptions of this Earthly life. But that'll have to wait til the next post.

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