The Aspirant to the Great Work has performed all the necessary preliminaries. She has devoted most of her spare time to sitting in Asana, hurling pentagram rituals about with ease, and Rising on the Planes. In the home stretch, she has dedicated her every resource to that Supreme Invocation, that which will bring her Knowledge and Conversation of her Holy Guardian Angel. After nine or eighteen months (depending on which edition she’s using) she attains a perfect Samadhi in which the promised Visitation occurs. The Angel shows her many visions, after which she knows exactly why she is here, what she is supposed to do with her life, and the location of every sock lost in the dryer for the past twenty years. She now has her Divine Mission Statement, and to waver from it in so much as the style of her hair will invite disaster. But should she pursue it (without lust of result, of course) faithfully she will be rewarded with health, wealth, and length of days. Yea, health, wealth, and length of days. Amen.
It’s an appealing theme, but the character of the narrative is too obviously clean, too plainly teleological to attribute to it any serious validity. That the progenitor of this mythic synecdoche of attainment says as much in numerous places (directly in Magick in Theory and Practice, indirectly elsewhere) is hardly the only, or even strongest, argument in favor of this view.
The mythos is easily dealt with (though it’s surprising how many Thelemites do speak as though the above is what they expect). “It’s just a metaphor.” Yes. For what?
It is all well and good to say that something was not meant to be taken literally. After all, what’s wrong with a little mythologizing in order to inspire what can be very difficult work. Nothing, provided that the metaphor points to something functional.
The question then, is simply: does it?
Let us turn to The Message of the Master Therion, where Crowley formally delineates the idea of True Will:
Take this carefully; it seems to imply a theory that if every man and every woman did his and her will—the true will—there would be no clashing. “Every man and every woman is a star,” and each star moves in an appointed path without interference. There is plenty of room for all; it is only disorder that creates confusion.
In Magick in Theory and Practice we see much the same again:
7. Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly.
So, the basic idea behind the myth remains. We each have a “course” determined by circumstance and the “true nature” of our own being. Others have pointed out that this is more or less Aristotle’s entelechy of the human soul. Hardly the stuff of radical self-transformation.
The thing is, I don’t think Crowley actually believed this. In other places he denies the existence of a self, true or otherwise. In his Message he spins the idea of “pure will, unassuaged of purpose” will with “purpose unassuaged,” and tells us that “It is Nirvana, only dynamic instead of static—and this comes to the same thing in the end.”
The extent of Crowley’s doctrinal knowledge of Buddhism is a question that would send us on a major digression. I would say briefly that both the pioneer nature of Western knowledge of Buddhism in the early twentieth century combined with the “interruption” of the New Aeon’s arrival limited Crowley’s intellectual comprehension of the Dharma. It is also my opinion that he was enough of a skilled practitioner, and his immersion in the Buddhist milieu deep enough that many realizations leaked through without his being aware of the source.
He was certainly aware of the doctrine of Dependant Origination. What he describes in the above sounds a great deal like the circumstances one finds oneself in as a result of being time and space bound in manifestation with other time and space bound entities. It certainly doesn’t sound like Nirvana, “dynamic” or otherwise. The Aristotlean “soul” would also fall short of this lofty attainment.
Weaving together two threads we can get a third thing. We need to go back to the foundations of Crowley’s ontology to see what he was really getting at here, rather than simply accepting an idea that turns to air when examined closely. Along with the Buddhist perspective, Crowley employed the Qabalah in his Work.
From the Qabalah we get a different view of the soul. While still essentialist in the ultimate sense, it, like Buddhism, sees material manifestation as an epiphenomena. The Cosmos in this system is composed of Four Worlds, each more abstract as one ascends the Tree of Life. And the soul is similarly divided into five parts. It is the task of the practitioner to bring the various parts of the soul into unity.
This sounds more promising as a starting point for positive action. While the practices of thinking backwards and such can help us discover the particulars of our Ruach’s constitution, it’s asking a bit much for them also pilot us beyond that. In fact, Crowley suggests these practices not for 5=6, where one attains to K of HGA, but in 7=4, as preparatory to crossing the Abyss. The fact that his Message tells us to do them as a method of discovering our True Will tells us something important, I think.
First, it tells us that K of HGA is not equivalent to discovering ones True Will. Or, more accurately, it is not the whole of that process. It’s incomplete. One has not fulfilled the whole of the Law.
The Law is Love. Will makes it whole. The method of attaining Knowledge and Conversation is an act of Love. This is the nature of ones relationship to the Angel. Love.
Through that Love, we learn to pilot through manifestation, those particulars into which we have been born. Through this we get hints of the bigger, broader reality behind it. And then, after we have heard our Angel’s voice in everything, we cross, and fine the True Will behind the forms we have been playing with.
And more: the Angel can only teach us the best way to manage our Will. We have always been doing so, just poorly. Not only have you no right but to do your Will. You have no say in the matter. You can only do it well or not. Everyone is a Thelemite. Some people just know it.
This is by no means a complete picture. What I have attempted is to divorce the idea of True Will from the almost Calvinist determinism that seems to be the common understanding.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the Law, Love under Will.