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

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