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CBS has launched a new “reality” show that involves giving two struggling families $100,000 and then giving them a choice to share part of it with the other family or keep it all. It is the sort of exploitive trash we’ve become accustomed to from the media industrial complex. If the class divisions in the United States were not already at Dickensian levels, The Briefcase wouldn’t exist at all. I joked on my Facebook feed that I hoped the season ended with the revelation that all the families had been secretly pooling their “gifts” in order to finance an armed revolution. While I don’t really think that’s a viable long term solution, the fact that the producers of the show didn’t conceive of this possibility demonstrates how little the poor in this country see themselves as a class that could engage in unified action for their collective benefit.
Let’s be clear: class warfare is not a choice. The oligarchs in charge of our economy and popular culture inflict varying degrees of suffering on the rest of us without restraint or even a sense that the individuals they are harming are people at all. We are “externalities” in their game. Collateral damage in their campaign to feed their bottomless hunger for wealth. The onslaught effects everyone outside of the plutocracy, not only those who recognize the situation or who feel outrage at the most egregious crimes.
Neo-liberalism has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest in our society. But, since the people who benefit from it are also in charge of the information and entertainment the majority of the population is exposed to, they are able to distort the situation to make it appear as if there is a way to “win” the rigged game they’ve set up for us and “make it.” As a result, the poor and middle classes don’t see themselves as a group, but as individuals who simply don’t have money. For all their talk of “individual responsibility,” the very wealthy act in the interests of the class they belong to far more often than those of lower socio-economic strata.
I’m not naïve. I realize the families involved with The Briefcase have pressures on them that make pooling their resources difficult. But, assuming a season of 8 shows, the contestants as a whole will receive $1.6 Million. Certainly a percentage of that could go toward some effort to undermine Corporate America’s stranglehold? You could buy a congressional representative’s vote with that, at the very least.
The Briefcase ultimately revolves around the dialogue of charity. It is “good” for one of the families to give part or all of their money to the other. It is “bad” for them to keep it. This even though both have the same amount, a fact that isn’t know to the contestants until the end of the installment. The families are being judged on “individual” virtue, which is a very nice semantic barrier to furthering their long term interests as members of a class.
Every successful social movement has recognized that its members are in the position they are because of their status. Black people are oppressed as Black people. LGBT people are oppressed because they are LGBT. Their movements for liberation appropriately focus on the thing they are mistreated on account of. When it comes to economics, Neo-liberalism has created such a broad group of differently disadvantaged groups that members of those groups are likely to see themselves as individuals existing within those subgroups, rather than members of the broader collective of those whom the oligarchs are screwing over.
This process is aided both by systemic factors, such as economic pressures and a media controlled by the ruling class, and the antagonisms that exist between subcultures. For instance, The Briefcase features a gay couple and a family of Bible thumping Republicans. The bigotry of the latter prevents collective action with the former. These barriers exist because the Right has encouraged them, and the beneficiary is the corporate system that leaves both families in the dust, until they are “rescued” by being made into a television carnival act.
The Briefcase, contrary to many opinions, represents not a new low, but a continuation of the process of class warfare that has always existed. It has simply gotten more extreme, because capitalism demands that everything increase at a greater rate.
They say that a lie travels half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on. This is infinitely more the case in the digital era, to the extent that the comedy website Cracked regularly publishes a list of “news” stories that turned out to be more fantasy than fact. Combine this with the potentially toxic combination of radical politics and spirituality, and the results are often spectacular and operatic.
Witness, as an example, the recent offering from one Rhyd Wildermuth, entitled “Perceval.” Said is a veiled reflection on a conversation Wildermuth had with my teacher, Sam Webster. This conversation was a follow up to some issues Wildermuth had with the discourse he experienced during the Pantheon Foundation’s Pagan Activism Conference. The substance of his disagreement boils down to: he believes that Paganism is anti-Capitalist, with which Sam disagrees. This would seem to be a fairly straightforward sort of argument, requiring neither the word count nor the vitriol Rhyd deploys in the service of… not actually making that point at all.
The problem with Rhyd’s post is that it’s subject is not ideas, but an individual with whom he has an ideological axe to grind. In the fine tradition of those unable to make a cogent argument and stick to the point, Wildermuth chooses to depict the person he disagrees with as morally suspect and frightening. He also attempts to place himself in an underdog position by referencing Sam’s questions about his education. This is a way to gain sympathy, by forcing anyone who calls Rhyd on his bullshit to apparently “punch down,” or attack someone in a position or relative disadvantage.
Sam’s response to Rhyd is far too gracious, assuming good faith and attributing the negative framing of his comments to (essentially) Rhyd’s emotional investment in his perspective. While this may be true, it does not change the fact of the misrepresentation.
There are many things in Rhyd’s post that sound like things Sam might have said. I’ve heard words like that come out of Sam’s mouth before. But Rhyd puts them in a Bizarro World context, and rephrases them in ways that no mature, intelligent person would ever speak. “You’re at an earlier cycle; you can’t see the truth I see. When you reach my age, you see what needs to be done,” is not a sentence that a person in real life would utter. It is a “writerly” way of turning a statement into a proclamation.
I could dissect the awful writing and rhetorical failings of Rhyd’s post for several more pages, but I don’t think he presents a strong enough challenge to merit the effort. My purpose in writing this is to point out that the Sam Webster he presents in his post is not the Sam Webster I know. It is a golem of its own, empowered by words consecrated with ideological rigidity and intellectual dishonesty.
As one example, Rhyd makes much of the fact that Sam questioned him about his education. This seems to be a sore spot, and Wildermuth takes these questions as indicative of some sort of academic elitism and snobbery. While it may be true that Sam values educated professionals (a position I find reasonable) if he had a significant dislike or low valuation of those without advanced degrees, I seriously doubt he would have supported my own accomplishments within the Order that he founded. I myself do not possess even a real high school diploma, yet Sam supported and encouraged not only my advancement in the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, but also my further elevation (twice) to elected Head of the Order. He also published my first novel. These are not things that the pompous pedant described by Wildermuth seems likely to consider doing for an uneducated rube such as myself.
A cursory perusal of this blog will make it clear that I am no friend of capitalism. But neither am I fond of the Machiavellian notion that it is acceptable to lie in the service of what one sees as a “larger truth.” This seems to be what Rhyd Wildermuth is doing, creatively reconstructing his conversation with Sam to make his point.
The result is neither true to life nor an example of good creative non-fiction. Mr. Wildermuth should concern himself more with broadening what appears to be his rather limited and naïve perspective, rather than attempting to defend it at the expense of someone who has spent their lives building institutions instead of undermining the different, but parallel, efforts of others.
There is a scene in the film adaptation of “The Libertine” in which John Malkovich’s Charles II tells John Wilmot, played by Johnny Depp that Anyone can oppose, it’s fun to be against things, but there comes a time when you have to start being for things as well.” This expresses the broader issue I have with Rhyd’s post: he does not recognize that you cannot build a sustainable movement on being anti-capitalist, or anti-anything.
The result of being so is clear, and we have seen it in microcosm in this situation. Infighting, insult, and lies to defend ones perspective. We can do better than this, and must if our Pagan movements will amount to anything more than the turn of the 21st century version Theosophy. A qlippoth of a spiritual path, rather than a vital means to personal and social liberation.
Recent weeks have seen a fair amount of internet furor over the (apparently hitherto not widely known) usage of the name “Golden Dawn” by a nationalist/fascist political party in Greece. This group has been active, apart from a brief hiatus between 2005 and 2007, since the 1980s.
The current focus on them seems to stem from a series of events in the past few weeks, beginning with the assassination of anti-right wing musician and activist Pavlos Fyssas, and culminating in the banning of the Party and arrest of its leadership. The general Pagan community has been aware of the Party for some time, particularly after Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus (a rather reactionary individual in his own right) decried its “neopaganistic ideology.” The ongoing discussion around this, along with the high number of news articles about the Party, placed stories about it on the front page of Google searches of “the Golden Dawn,” and at last garnered the attention of public figures associated with the actual Golden Dawn tradition of magick. The overall response has been disappointing.
The specifically Golden Dawn reaction to this began (in the blogosphere) with a post by Donald Michael Kraig titled “A Call to Leaders of the Golden Dawn.” It is (sadly) a blog post of the caliber I have come to expect of Mr. Kraig. That is to say, it contains a few reasonable ideas presented in a way that does not support them, and tells us nothing about the context of the current issue. Instead, we are treated to a narrative about Houdini, followed by a comparison to the current issue to the Horos scandal that undid Mathers. Kraig claims that the Horos scandal caused a split in the Golden Dawn that resulted in the defectors changing their name. They did this, he said, in order to distance themselves from the activities of the Horoses, which were highly unethical and illegal, and resulted in a trial he compares to that of O.J. Simpson. He then suggests that we who are leaders in various Golden Dawn groups should likewise consider changing our names, or at least publishing a statement to the effect that we are not Greek Racists or supporters of any such ideologies.
Actually, he reverses these two responses in terms of their level of severity, stating that we should “at least have the decency” to change our name. Why he doesn’t understand how issuing a statement is a lesser response confuses me. Issuing a statement seems like a rather reasonable response to the increased publicity of an egregious organization. My own Order, in fact, issued such a statement before Kraig seems to have heard of the situation. Changing the name seems rather extreme, given the localized nature of the Party and the fact that it has existed since around the same time as the inception of the earliest of the contemporary Golden Dawn groups. This horse left the barn quite some time ago.
I can see arguing that groups in Europe or those who might wish to operate in Europe in the future would want to alter or change their names. This would arguably be self-defense. Having a name similar to that of an organization that has been banned has a number of possible ramifications. Web filters might block people from finding your group. Law enforcement could potentially investigate you to some degree. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to choose a different name to avoid the potential distraction from your Order’s main work.
But “decency”? I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to address a public figure in the magical community this way, but seriously, fuck you Donald. No really. Go fuck yourself. You could put forth a perfectly logical justification for a name change, but you resort to pompous, arrogant, and pointless appeals to morality. This not only weakens your point, but constitutes an act of bullying. I don’t need you, or any other public figure, to tell me that racism, nationalism, and fascism are bad things. Nor am I, or any other high ranking member of any order, obligated to conform to what you consider decent, simply on the strength of your assertion that it is so. If it is “decency” you are defending, then demonstrate how our failing to change our names falls short of a conception of decency we can agree on, or at least one that you make a case for somewhere in the body of the piece charging me to take such an action. Failing to do so renders your injunction weak at best, abrasive and manipulative at worst.
I could go on about Kraig’s post (it really is one of the worst pieces of rhetoric I’ve seen from him, and this is not a trivial achievement on his part) but I also want to address a less noxious but nevertheless lackluster example, from Nick Farrell. Nick’s post, “The Golden Dawn Is Not a Bunch of Nazis”, is disappointing to me mainly because of the statement which comes near the end of the piece. Farrell here states, in bold face set off from the rest of the article, that “The ideas of the Far Right (and left for that matter) are alien to occultism, mysticism and magic. If you find any of these ideas attractive, you cannot be a viable member of the Golden Dawn. You might learn a few techniques, but you are forever locked out from discovering the real secrets.”
I find this statement problematic for a few reasons. The first sentence would actually require an entire essay to justify, and even this would be difficult given that it is proceeded by a list of very political, mostly right wing ties on the part of early Golden Dawn members, as well as a discussion of Evola. It is hard to see how these views could be considered “alien to occultism” when, historically, many major occult figures have held them. Given this, we are left with the question of what exactly would constitute “viability”, and how the founders of the Tradition failed to achieve it. I don’t know if this is just a poor choice of words on Nick’s part, but viability isn’t a very high standard. My personal instinct would be to say that a viable member of the Golden Dawn is someone who is capable of actually earning a 5=6. That’s the goal of the Outer Order, so it seems reasonable to mark that as the standard of viability, if one were inclined to do something like that.
But my other problem is that Nick’s statement makes such an attempt at all. Assigning an a priori condition to attainment assumes a great deal of evidence, and we don’t find that here. It is simply asserted and then justified by the following:
The Golden Dawn system of magic is never about extremes, it is always to do with balance. The extreme politics of the Far Right and Left are Qlippothic within Golden Dawn philosophy.
I have two problems with this. First, it represents a common misunderstanding about political movements and ideologies. “Extremism” is a label that people outside the memeplex of an ideology place on those viewpoints. Very rarely do movements viewed by the mainstream as “extreme” see themselves that way, or use that terminology in reference to their own movement. From the perspective of the membership, it is the current mainstream condition of society and the views of their enemies that are considered extreme. In many cases, this may be justified. Radical feminism, for instance, sees capitalist patriarchal society as structurally sexist and racist. It is very hard, for me at least, to see how this is not the case, given the numerous ways in which woman and people of color get the short end of this stick in our world on a daily basis.
The terms “extreme” and “radical” get used as if they are interchangeable quite frequently, but there is a difference. “Extreme” is, again, a term used by opponents of a movement to suggest that its ideology is beyond the pale. This might be the case, or it might not. “Radical”, on the other hand, refers to an attempt to change society at its roots (radix). On both left and right, radicals view problems as systemic or cultural rather than merely interpersonal. If you’re a radical, you see the system as fucked to the core.
Is taking note of an extreme imbalance and suggesting that an equally strong response is needed an imbalanced viewpoint? My objection to this is that it assumes that the current structure of society represents a normative ideal. That the social system we have now is more or less structurally sound, and only needs minor reforms or legislation to fix remaining inequalities. In other words, it assumes that the ideology of modern, centrist liberalism is not only a reasonable viewpoint to have, but is also the one that allows an individual to achieve the nebulous goal of viability within the Golden Dawn.
Nick’s post suffers because he makes a very broad, deontological assertion that unintentionally privileges a particular viewpoint. There are many ways to discuss the relationship between magical aspiration and political views. This is one of the more superficial and unsatisfying ones. A far more effective approach would be to point out the ways in which any political bias can blind you to important facts about yourself and the world. This has the advantage of having been studied scientifically, and it has pragmatic consequences that are demonstrably detrimental to the goal of enlightenment.
All that said, Farrell’s post at least addresses larger implications for members of the Golden Dawn, and it is possible for me to lend it a qualified agreement. Kraig, on the other hand, makes a big deal out of how morally upright he is, demands that we agree with him, and implies that if we don’t, we are not of his level or righteousness.
It is frustrating to see such a superficial and (in Kraig’s case) annoying response to the issue of the Greek Golden Dawn. This ties into so many interesting and important concerns within the Golden Dawn community that it ought to spur real discussion of complex problems. I have yet to see this on a broad scale.
Making a statement that your group is not affiliated with racism is a rather trivial, if necessary action to take. But the discussion needs to move beyond that if we plan to survive and thrive, to become a meaningful part of the larger culture.
The question we ought to be asking ourselves is not “what do we do?” We really ought to be making a considered, long term examination of our history and the ideas within the Tradition we find ourselves working in. The ways in which those ideas were shaped by the (sometimes “extreme) views of its founders. What does it mean for us that the system we work may have been, in part, (as some have asserted) a “magical engine for putting the Stuarts on the Throne of England”? More broadly, in what ways do we retain, within the structural DNA of the system, a worldview that, from our perspective, would be considered “extreme” simply by being the product of a bygone age?
I really think this situation should start a different discussion than the one we’re currently having. Statements of opposition to bad ideas are of the nature of “magical hygiene,” necessary but not particularly worthy of praise. Changing our name? Maybe, but not for the reasons Kraig gives, and not simply in response to this.
What I keep returning to, personally, is the feeling that, we of the esoteric paths, lack a robust, vital memesphere that can have influence outside the narrow bounds of our communities. We seem to think that we live in a vacuum, and our only responsibility is to react if someone happens to be shitting on our particular doorstep.
I don’t think this is a good thing, and it makes me wonder if we have anything to offer, and if, indeed, we can survive.
In the wake of the Satanic Panic of the mid-to-late 1980s, several entities within the Pagan community undertook various efforts to publicize the facts about Modern Witchcraft and other magically oriented Paths. While this was primarily a defensive undertaking, it also made access to what was hitherto a comparatively invisible cluster of religions much easier. As a result, the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who identified as Witches or something similar. Magical communities became part of a visible and growing subculture. This produced what I feel is the under addressed issue of where exactly we want to draw the line between increasing mainstream acceptance of magical Paths and making those Paths more mainstream themselves.
Part of what attracted me to the Craft and later Crowley and Thelema was the countercultural overtones that seemed, to me, inherent to the study of the occult. Mainstream American culture has, for most of my life always seemed to me a collection of cruelties, ignorance, inanity, fraud, superficiality, and bigotry, combined with a dangerously naïve idealism that valorizes the most sociopathic tendencies of the domesticated primate. Truthfully, I am only interested in being acceptable to the average imbecile to the extent that they will leave me alone. Beyond that, I am perfectly happy to watch this vapid virus of a civilization eat itself alive and wait to help build something better from the husk it leaves behind.
What I’m saying is that, while I recognize the need to educate the small percentage of the population that is actually capable of learning something, I find the prospect of my spirituality itself becoming part of mainstream society undesirable. Because mainstream society sucks a massive bag of pox ridden dicks.
Not that there’s anything to be done about the issue at this point. The Jinn has exited his atomizer, and we are left to deal with the thin film of stink that comes with that fact. Along with the occasional creepy pederast or delusional eccentric, magical communities will now have to guard against the more common pathologies of modern life. Things like racism, sexism, and homophobia.
All of these have been present in occult groups for as long as they have existed. Gardnarian Craft was, for a long time, rigidly heteronormative. The Eurocentric bias of Western Esotericism, along with the average class demographic within groups of practitioners, has always guaranteed that a certain percentage of them will tend toward regressive attitudes. But there has also been an equal if not greater push from the more radical edge of these communities. Those of us who see involvement with this sort of lunacy as being, in itself, an explicit rejection of the reactionary norm.
(I am fully aware of arguments that society has, in fact, become too progressive and “politically correct”, and that right wing tendencies are a necessary balance. This is an issue that would require a major digression to fully address. It will have to suffice to say that these arguments are rooted in a lack of a structural understanding of the system and culture we live in, and confuse the veneer of progressivism within popular culture for long term, institutional change.)
We are used to thinking of terms such as “openness”, “inclusivity”, and “diversity” as referring to things we actually want. The problem is that, in the absence of the above mentioned structural and systemic understanding, they become empty buzzwords that do little more than feed the sense of entitlement from which upper middle class white people will approach almost everything, including their spirituality. As our communities start to reflect a more mainstream cultural background, we will find we have more and more people who lack even a naïve, “fuck the system” variant of such an understanding.
Make no mistake, America is still a racist society. The situation does not improve when we look at other Western nations. In a large swath of Europe, racism and nationalism are considered part of daily life. As we become more “open” and “inclusive,” we will find ourselves increasingly more prone to infiltration by these mainstream realities.
It is therefore important, at the outset, to set the limit on exactly how much we will allow our communities to be a part of the larger culture. Other religious communities do this all the time. The Mormons have managed to establish a parallel culture and gain, if not widespread respect, at the very least tolerance, from the society around them. Immigrant Muslims and Hindus are forced to do much the same, conforming to Western norms only to the extent that they must, and maintaining an apartness from them otherwise.
There is a reciprocal relationship between subcultures and the society around them. As we become more mainstream in our makeup, we potentially take on more of the ideology that mainstream people unconsciously hold. This in itself is a mixed bag. It contains both positive and detrimental elements. At the same time, as more mainstream people adopt magical conceptions of the world around them, those ideas themselves become slightly more “normal.” But this influence is only truly progressive and positive when the subculture itself has a high level of clarity and integrity. That is to say, the core of a meme will only become determinant if it is strong enough to withstand contact with the contradictory memes it interacts with. It will only survive if it is complete and coherent on its own terms.
If magical communities are going to maintain integrity, and retain the generally progressive trajectory of the past half century, we must do something similar to the communities mentioned earlier. Boundaries, intelligent exclusion, and discrimination, are not bad things if done with the proper intent. They are key to the main enterprise of our Paths: Magick.
Yes, Magick is about exclusion. It is the stripping away of everything that is not in concert with your intent. The question is, do we intend a vital, vibrant, alternative cultural community in answer to the everyday idiocy around us, or do we content to remain an inchoate subculture that allows any and all ideas to flourish, regardless of how they undermine us in the long term?
Thelema is a religion that places the individual at the center of its discourse. This emphasis has led many to conflate it with political ideologies as different as Anarchism and Libertarianism. (If you don’t know why these are incompatible, you don’t understand Anarchism.) It is neither of these. Thelema is a spiritual philosophy, not a political movement. Its concerns are with a different level of reality and consciousness entirely.
None of this means that Thelema has nothing to do with the socio-political context it arose from and continues to manifest within. Crowley, in addition to being a Prophet, was also a human being with a history. The Revelation of Liber AL passed through the psyche of an upper class British bohemian at the turn of the 20th Century. To make too much of this is to either freeze Thelema in the mindset of that time or dismiss it as the delusions of a privileged eccentric. Ignoring the person of Crowley altogether, by, for example, limiting his contribution to the Holy Books “which he merely wrote down” or extending the origins of Thelema backward in time to Rabelais, is to overlook the fact that, at that time and place, Crowley’s psyche provided the path of least resistance for the Revelation of the New Law. From a magical point of view, this is significant, particularly if we are discussing a philosophy which puts the individual at its center.
Individualism in the form we know it today is relatively knew. It is the core of liberalism in the classical sense. It is likely this modern usage that leads Libertarians, also known as Classical Liberals, to claim that Thelema supports their views. This ignores the amount of time that both Liber AL and Crowley’s mundane writing devote to undermining the basis for liberal individualism: “rationality.” The Book of the Law repeatedly refers to the inability of the discursive intellect to fully comprehend the Truth.
Further, the entire idea that one has a Will that they must come to know through something as patently irrational as magick suggests that, at the very least, any reasoning one does needs to be guided by a suprarational understanding. Classical liberal thought repeats the error of the unenlightened by crowning the Ruach the monarch of the Soul when it is more like its secretary. Even if it were true that all individuals act in their rational self-interest (which it isn’t; the efficacy of modern advertising is empirical proof) this would be a very low standard from a Thelemic perspective.
In addition, the concept of the individual as “an island” is hardly supported by the core metaphor of “every man and every woman is a star,” with “their own orbit in relation to other stars.” This clearly establishes that the individual operates within a context, and a rather mechanical one at that.
Taking the approach to Crowley indicated above, that is, by acknowledging that his centrality to Thelema is the result of the fact that his life, and not another’s, was the factor that made the proclamation of the Law possible on this plane of existence, we can come to a more enlightened understanding of the individual.
Ontologically, the idea of the individual is troublesome from the start. Who are you, really? Nearly every answer that just came to your mind depends on external circumstance. Strip any of those factors away, and your behavior changes almost instantly. More than that, the way you perceive the world around you changes. What is the “you” that supposedly glues all this experience together? We know enough about the development of the mind now to seriously question how much of what we consider “us” is anything more than a reflection of the social context we grew up in, and the memories engraved in our psyches over the course of a lifetime.
But there is one thing we can confidently say about this “I” that our culture is built to feed and pacify: there is no other manifestation of social context and cosmic circumstance exactly like it. Even in a totally homogeneous society, with little or no variation in wealth or privilege, it would be impossible for every individual within it to have precisely the same experiences. There are too many factors that are beyond the ability of any family or society to control. Take into account the complexity of modern societies, and the possible combinations come near to infinity.
Which gives us a good idea of why Thelema showed up when it did. As industrial civilization was nearing its peak, society was saturated with enough complexity that it was now ontologically impossible to ensure that every single person would be “on the same page” as everyone else. In relatively closed societies, with an unquestioned religious orientation, it is feasible to expect individuals to accept the dominant narrative and their place in it. As more individuals experience other narratives, and the religious beliefs of the past lose their exclusive claims to truth, the dominant narratives lose the ability to control individual thought and behavior. The Law of Thelema emerged when it did, not in opposition to the direction of modern civilization, as some would have it, but as an expression of it.
I would also argue that it is the least problematic, and perhaps even the highest, expression of those tendencies. Crowley’s privileged background, along with the specific period of history he lived through, gave him the opportunity and desire to experience a much larger world than would have been available to him just a few decades earlier. His religious upbringing, and the trauma that led him to reject it, gave him both an intensely spiritual and questioning soul. The political fads of the day colored these with a focus on individual liberty.
What we ended up with, as a result, is a refined early synthesis of western and eastern esotericism combined with an acknowledgement that Truth was larger than any story told to an individual by society. Each person was forced, not by any temporal authority, but by the very nature of the world around them, to determine the best way to express their deepest, truest self.
No other individual on the planet could have produced the Book of the Law other than Aleister Crowley. Yet that individual was also a collection of forces, factors, and history that met temporarily within the context of his life and moved in and out of it independently of him. This temporary synthesis was like none other that had existed or would again.
The preceding should not be taken as a panegyric to Crowley. It is utterly possible for someone to be the one best suited to express the nature of the Cosmos at a particular time and still fall short of being an ideal role model. In many ways, it was his mundane failings that made him the Prophet of the Aeon. And he hardly could be said to live up to the demands of the Law in any consistent sense. The point is not that he was holier than anyone else, but that he was one most fit to deliver the message.
What I think we can take from this example is that the individual and their Will is part of something larger than a particular, temporary expression of forces, factors, and history. That momentary configuration is the best suited but not necessarily ideal vehicle for manifesting that greater reality. It cannot do anything but manifest it, but it can do it with greater relative efficacy.
Bringing it down to something more concrete, “Thou has no right but to do thy Will.” This being a Divine or Cosmic Law, there isn’t any choice in the matter. We’re not talking about “free will.” An individual has no option but to be whatever they are at any given moment.
What they can do, is reach beyond the temporal manifestations that make up their persona to the greater, spiritual reality that they allude to.. In other words, these conditions are indicative, not prescriptive. Peeling back the veil of words, that “lying specter of the centuries,” to find the non-discursive core behind them, opens up possibilities that the meat robot could not have conceived of. This can aid us in achieving that “fulfillment of Will, and of Love under Will, that is perpetual happiness.”
It is important to remember, when dealing with an esoteric doctrine, that it is, in fact, different from the ideologies it may resemble. The dogs of reason are legion, and it is a good idea to keep them from tasting blood…
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
There is something a little disingenuous about the negative comments circulating the web in the wake of Sam Webster’s statement that “you can’t worship Jesus Christ and still be Pagan.” Beneath the accusations of “fundamentalism” and religious bigotry, I get the sense that the main objection is to the notion that there are limits to what a person can do spiritually once they’ve decided on a particular Path. Let us spin it in the other direction for a moment: is it really respectful to appropriate for oneself a Deity which is part of a religion whose adherents would likely object to one becoming a member if one continued to worship other Deities?
In other contexts, this sort of thing is called “cultural appropriation.” For example, from the ages of eleven to twenty two, I lived on the Diné Reservation in Arizona. Some would say that I have enough connection to the culture, by virtue of having lived in such close proximity to it for so long, to incorporate some “Native American” elements in my personal practice. Certainly, numerous white people have done so with far less exposure. I disagree with this attitude. While I think Diné culture has many wonderful aspects, I don’t see myself as entitled to simply take parts of it and graft it into my own Work. If I were to say “well, you see Coyote however you want, I’m going to treat him as a manifestation of Mercury and call him with the Divine Names attributed to the Sphere of Hod in the Qabala,” I’d probably be seen as a bit of a moron, and a rude one at that.
It is fair to question how much this analogy pertains to the current discussion. Christ as a figure is part of Western culture, and Coyote is not, at least not to the same degree. But it still seems difficult to see how He could be part of a Pagan’s practice unless one takes the view that the perspective of the religion He comes from is somehow unimportant. Because, whatever a small minority (or incredibly silent majority) of liberal Christians might say, the fact remains that in the Christian Tradition, Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” It’s Him or Hell. That’s not just fundamentalism. A given denomination might not phrase it quite so bluntly, but all of the major sects see salvation as coming exclusively through Christ. (And no, you don’t get to point out the Catholic statement that “Many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside [the Catholic Church’s] visible confines” as a counter. What that means is that not all other religions are totally detrimental, and might help you come around to being Catholic one day.)
In Christianity, Christ came to lift the burden of Adam’s sin from humanity. This is the reason he was worshipped for almost two thousand years. To gain redemption from the results of something the devotee had nothing to do with. Even seeing this as a metaphor is still taking a very negative view of humanity, in direct opposition to the espoused beliefs of most Pagans.
What is important here isn’t whether or not these beliefs are “right” or “wrong.” While generalizing is always dangerous, I feel confident in saying that Christ as the sole World Redeemer is the view held by the majority of Christians. I don’t think they’d be happy with some hippy taking their God and treating Him as an equal partner with whatever other Deities the individual works with. Such a practice strips Christ of the meaning He has for most of his followers.
The incorporation of Christ into a non-Christian framework then comes down to one or two possible approaches:
- Asserting that the beliefs of the followers of Christ are of no consequence to Pagans who might choose to worship Him on their own terms. Which may be functionally the case, but demonstrates what I would consider a very disrespectful attitude, one in apparent contradiction to the “let’s be loving and kind to people of all faiths” platitudes currently circulating. Unless “loving and kind” means “being super sweet to others to their face then not giving a shit what they might think about the most important thing in their lives.” The word for this is “hypocrisy.”
- Taking the view that Christ is a central figure in Western Culture, and as such transcends what various sects might think of Him. This shares many of the problems as the first option. It resembles white anthropologists coming into an indigenous culture and telling them their figures of devotion are “just archetypes.” This may be the case, but it’s one thing to hold that view, and another thing to “go native” with the notion that one is “doing it the right way.”
One could raise the objection that the phrase “cultural appropriation” doesn’t apply to this situation as it would in the case of a white person adopting indigenous practices. After all, Jesus is part of “our culture,” that is, the culture of Modern Western society.
And here we come to the sticking point. Do Pagans see themselves as creating a culture in opposition and as an alternative to Western Modernity? This was certainly the case for quite a significant period in Paganism’s history. (I’m dating the beginning of Paganism in its contemporary form to the middle of the 20th Century, with the creation of Wicca by Gerald Gardner.) The movement experienced a major part of its development alongside the counterculture of the 1960s. In the 70s and through most of the 80s, it became heavily politicized, with the growth of radical feminism, women’s spirituality, and other movements. In the 90s, the mainstream became more aware of Paganism, and I think this is when the countercultural elements began to get downplayed. It would seem that, after twenty years of being “out”, Pagans have come to see themselves as less in opposition to the established culture. To once again generalize, Paganism appears to have become less a counterculture in positive opposition to the mainstream, and more of a subculture. Some elements of the prior critique remain, but the overall trend is toward promoting Paganism’s place as a distinct spiritual expression within the established social, political, and economic environment, rather than as a revolutionary movement.
Either way, the inclusion of Christ is problematic. If the goal is to supplant the dominant culture, engaging with its principal icon in the spirit of somehow “taking the flag back” can hardly be considered the result of a charitable view of Christianity. If the goal is to be a distinct voice within the larger culture, then we are back to the simple issue of drawing boundaries. And, in that case, Pagans who worship Christ will have to reckon with at least nine major denominations of Christianity and several hundred minor ones that are more not less dogmatic. Given the paucity of theological expertise within the Pagan community, and the habit of giving non-responses like “your mileage may vary” to substantive objections, I doubt there is anyone within it properly equipped to delve into the very deep and complex waters of Christology.
There are other, less burdened expressions for love and compassion that Pagans can attach to. And while all of them come from other cultures (because Modern Paganism is less than a century old and no one seems interested in creating new Deities) most of them don’t derive from religions that expressly forbid the worship of other Gods. One can relate to Them on Their own terms without pissing Them off by running off to play with someone else.
I recognize that there is an emotional level to this. That, to those Pagans who have had an experience of Christ, it must sound like I’m devaluing that and attempting to impose a rule governing their spiritual life. Apart from the fact that I’m not in any position to do so, this kind of reactive thinking serves no one. If an individual can work out some understanding with the being they’re relating to as Jesus that doesn’t involve accepting Him as their Lord and Savior, I have no way of judging the veracity of such a relationship, nor do I regard it as my business to try. But I do think it is important to enter into a relationship with a Deity mindfully, and part of being mindful is considering the Deity’s background. Not only for ones own wellbeing, but out of consideration and respect, I think this ought to include some reflection on how the devotees of that God would react to what you are doing. To do otherwise does not seem “open minded” to me. It seems like flagrant disrespect and selfishness.
Love is the law, love under will