What does it mean to be “more than human?” This is one of the major themes of attainment in the Western Mystery Tradition. It is specifically mentioned in the 5=6 Oath of the Golden Dawn. A laudable goal, suggesting transcendence, the overcoming of the conditions of one’s birth to become something better.
All too often, however, it is read as “other than human.” Outside the spectrum of humanity in an abusive, dominating way that looks a lot like social pathology to the “uninitiated.” The metaphors of this kind of ego inflation will focus on images of the “lone wolf” preying on “the herd.” Pure, second circuit aggression and little else mark this distorted pattern of pseudo-attainment. What is not realized is that in order to be “more than human” you must first be simply human, or you will become dramatically less. Little more than a rabid animal with an elaborate semantic map.
To understand why, we need to first look at where the Tradition puts humankind. For all intents an purposes, we stand exactly in the center, between the less evolved creatures and the more rarified dimensions of the spiritual hierarchy. Further, we alone possess the ability to mirror the entire cosmos in our own being, by virtue of our rational capacity. We can conceive of the noetic dimension just beyond form, where the patterns that reality is woven upon have their real existence.
Over billions of years, the patterns and forms of the Cosmos shifted and built, not by intent but simply because they were interacting, moving toward the manifestation of a creature that could embrace both the heights and the depths of being. Finally, the brains of certain primates evolved in such a way that they could think abstractly, could think and plan and imagine. And humanity emerged.
Now, a human brain goes through specific, well established stages of development. A child goes from being almost totally indistinct as a personality, dependent on another for its survival, to an individual unit in a culture in eighteen years. Sometimes, a rare individual will look beyond the trees that mark their tribe’s territory and gain a broader perspective, becoming post-cultural.
Within that spectrum of development, there are early stages which, if you’re not paying attention, look a lot like later transcendent ones. For instance, the new born infant is undifferentiated in terms of its environment. It really doesn’t know about the boundaries of the self. Those come later. Often, less aware New Age folks will romanticize this infant stage, confusing it with later samadhi experiences in which one “becomes one with” the environment. There’s a huge difference between these two states. The infant stage is simply the result of an indistinct blob of organic drives, while the latter samadhi can only occur after a directed period of internal separation of ones already united psyche. To state that they are “the same” is like saying that unmixed cookie dough is the same as a cookie.
In Thelemic circles, the confusion more often occurs between the post-cultural stages that Crowley was actually hinting at and the pre-cultural, narcissistic stage of a territorially directed two year old. The two have in common a focus on the individual, but latter has gone through both intellectual and cultural developments. A post-cultural individual recognizes both the arbitrariness of cultural mores, and the need for harmonious relations with others. There is no need to dominate others, as their is in the narcissistic stage.
Domination cannot be considered liberation. The two are simply qualitatively different. A tyrant depends on hundreds of people obeying him and buying into his mystique. A predator requires a steady population of prey, which must be at the very least maintained at a level which ensures his own health when consuming. The kind of aggressive “individualism” promoted by the more literal minded Thelemites is little more than an esotericized ethic of unsustainable predation. A sanctification of the same impulses that drive upper middle class white males to engage in duplicitous business practices. It is the ethical framework of Enron.
My point is that you can not become “more than human” by behaving like less. Both the Hermetic tradition which places us in a unique position between the highest and the lowest, and evolutionary psychology which firmly establishes us as social animals, tell us that we are creatures essentially different from the beasts that we emerged from.
We need to remember that when we transcend, we also include what we were before. This is as true in physical, psychological, and spiritual development. Further, higher levels depend on lower ones in a way that lower ones do not depend on higher. If humans disappeared, the insects would still thrive. If insects disappear, humans follow quickly.
The other side of this is that we can’t totally abandon the dominator in us, either. What we do is add another level of awareness to the drive to overcome. We turn our drive to be in control inward, where it belongs. Instead of projecting outward into the world, we learn to discipline our own natures in order to make them fitting vehicles for the Light.
So when we transcend culture, we need to remember not to totally trash it. It is part of our makeup, of what makes us human. And what makes us human eventually causes us to seek the glittering palace of our exalted being beyond.