Thelema and the “Mosaic Distinction”

This post on the Egregores blog got me thinking about Thelema, and the claims made about it by what I have termed the Muscular Fascist Crowlianites ( henceforth referred to as MFCs). The relevant passage for our purposes is a quote from Jan Assman’s Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt and Western Monotheism:

The distinction I am concerned with in this book is the distinction between true and false religion that underlies more specific distinctions such as Jews and Gentiles, Christians and pagans, Muslims and unbelievers.
The Mosaic distinction was therefore a radically new distinction which considerably changed the world in which it was drawn. The space which was “severed or cloven” by this distinction was not simply the space of religion in general, but that of a very specific kind of religion. We may call this new type of religion “counter-religion” because it rejects and repudiates everything that went before and what is outside itself as “paganism”. It no longer functioned as a means of intercultural translation; on the contrary, it functioned as a means of intercultural estrangement. Whereas polytheism, or rather “cosmotheism,” rendered differed cultures mutually transparent and compatible, the new counter-religion blocked intercultural translatability. False gods cannot be translated.

There is a way of reading Liber AL, favored by the MFCs, which would place Thelema into the category of systems (they say “it’s not a religion, but an ideology” – because they are ideologues) which deploy the Mosaic Distinction. Specifically, passages such as “abrogate are all rituals, all ordeals… etc” and the maiming of past religious figures in Chapter three, basically mean that all religions but Thelema are false. The traditional, Crowlian attitude to deity is rather complex, and in fact prefigures that developed by Chaos Magic. So gods per se would not be seen as “false,” only the original ontology of the religions those gods are a part of. It’s equivalent to the attitude taken by nineteenth century anthropologists when considering native religions; obviously the native understanding of these beings is incorrect, so we will explain their function in terms of whatever school we belong to.

It’s a kind of epistemological chauvinism, with all the arrogance that entails. Only in this case, rather than being based at the very least on comparative explorations by multiple groups of people in something like a scientific method, the MFCs’ confident stance derives solely from having achieved “gnosis” using Crowley’s poetry and rituals. Gnosis, of course, is a state where rational processes cease. The experience itself is transcendent. But the things the mind fills up with during the return to normal consciousness are not the same thing as that experience. Liturgy will, as we have seen, effect the recognition and understanding of that event. The assumption that such an experience could, in itself, validate a particular map is therefore a confusion of the planes and a good way to ensure nothing more than reification at the level of ego.

If you’ve ever dealt with MFCs, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say that they tend to employ a language that, like the Mosaic Distinction, divides them from the rest of humanity. Not only by explicit intent (they are, after all, better than everyone else) but also by being totally divorced from the common spiritual experience of the bulk of humanity since the dawn of time. This is, remember, a viewpoint that considers social values such as concern for ones fellow human beings anathema.

Compassion, like the Sun or Love or War, are real, concrete realities. Pagan deities arise from these fundamental, basic aspects of existence. The Mosaic Distinction is a conclusion drawn from what were likely hallucinations on the part of people suffering from starvation and heat exposure. Judeo-Christian and Islamic Monotheism are pure, abstract surrealism that have a tendency to minimize and divorce one from the manifest world.

Likewise, adopting as an absolute “users manual” for life a similar kind of epiphenomena of someone else’s experience such as the Book of the Law, without regard for how this would look in the real world, is a similar kind of divorce. This is one of the reasons why I find the MFC perspective to not only be intellectually untenable but also little more than a continuation of the same set of mistakes that Western Civilization has been making for the past two thousand years. It represents the same error taken up one level of abstraction, from claims about gods to claims about ontology.

1 comment
  1. One of the reasons I’ve never been able to get behind Thelema is the whole “Aeon” thang. For all of Crowley’s blustering about being the Great Beast, his view of history nonetheless presents the Age of Osiris, dominated by Christianity in particular and monotheism in general, as a historical advance over the Age of Isis, which was dominated by polytheism. To which I say: bah.

    I think the megalomaniacal view of oneself as the Great Goal towards which all of previous history has been inexorably leading up to is a natural consequence of the Mosaic distinction.

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