Life Moves Pretty Fast: Learning to Love the Law

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Having a crisis of faith on top of a Saturn’s return is a weird thing. The whole purpose of a Saturn’s return is to shake your foundations until all the rotten pillars come loose. It’s very unpleasant. Part of the process involves you clinging to those rotten pillars as if it were a matter of life and death. You, of course, don’t realize that they don’t fit your life or feed your soul. It’s simply how you expect things to be. And when it all shakes loose you are devastated.

I have written over 5,000 unpublished words in an attempt to write this post. In fact, I considered making it a whole week of posts. Yet the more I wrote the more wrong it seemed. I found some aspects of my spiritual evolution, although vitally important to my process, were simply too private to share. I also discovered there was no good way to address it in a narrative fashion with out it becoming a tome of ponderous proportions. I was a bit quick to criticize Leah Libresco for jumping the gun, because that is simply the nature of spiritual revelation. Your soul takes a quantum leap that no amount of reason or introspection can fully explain. That doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects that can be explained, and those aspects I will attempt to address here.

Back in October of 2010 I wrote an article called Radical Tolerance. I would likely write it far differently today, but I still feel it has a valid take on the core value of my spirituality:

I believe this is because tolerance has taken on a narcissistic quality in our faiths. We’ve come to see tolerance as being about us and not them. The world must accept me. Other faiths must accept mine.

Practicing tolerance in its most logical and practical form is a radical thing. It restricts me in ways I never considered and has spurred me to defend things I never imagined defending. It has made me sensitive to other people’s practices, religious beliefs, and spiritual culture in a way I never anticipated. It’s made me unsympathetic to people whose version of tolerance requires others to conform to them, who insist no controversial or unorthodox views be aired. To paraphrase Voltaire, I may not agree with your beliefs or practices, but I will defend unto death your right to believe and practice them.

At the time, I felt I was espousing something I had never really seen before. Something radically new. It’s an ideal I hold dear to my heart, and I don’t always live up to the standard it sets. It’s something that I don’t see existing as a living standard in many Pagan religions. Generally, tolerance means acceptance, and acceptance means conforming to values of which you may not approve.

So it was my surprise to find an interpretation of the Law of Thelema (which opens this post) as being an affirmation not that I have a right to exert my Will, but that you have a right to exert your Will. Rather than being narcissistic in nature, it is a more practical expression of the spiritual sentiment behind Namaste. The speaker acknowledges the other person has their own True Will, which may be different from that of the speaker. I forget where I read this interpretation first, but it was likely something written by Lon Milo DuQuette or Rodney Orpheus. It literally turned everything I had always believed about Thelema on its head, and, following my very personal spiritual revelation, it gave me a direction to explore now that there was this gaping hole in my spiritual life.

The septagram, also known as the Star of Babalon, is one symbol of Thelema.

 

I thought Thelemites must think Crowley was infallible and not to be questioned. I was wrong. I thought Thelema was an “old boys club” but then I began reading about women who were influential Thelemites in the past, and about women very actively participating in Thelema’s evolution today. I had an impression from past bad experiences that Thelemites generally believed their Will was to be the world’s biggest jerk and used the Law as their justification. Then I realized that some of the Thelemites I know are delightfully charming people I respect and admire.

Drew Jacob made some good sense awhile back when he advocated that you judge a spiritual system by the people who have been following it for decades. It’s not a right/wrong or good/bad sort of judgement. Not every wants to grow up to be Florence Nightingale, however admirable she may be. It also makes good sense to practice a faith whose core ideals reflect your own. So when my personal spiritual revelation brought me out of my crisis of faith and set my spiritual odometer back to zero, I was shocked to find that it was Thelema that made the most sense.

I’d encountered Thelema well over a decade ago and found Crowley obtuse and impenetrable. I gave it another look about 7 years ago coming out of a divorce and looking for something to grab onto during that turbulence, but some of the Thelemites I encountered were more than unpleasant and that discouraged me. Regardless, I’d been a fan of DuQuette for a very long time. He’s not merely very knowledgeable and wise, but he’s just a lovely human being with a great sense of humor. I’ve recently gotten to know Rodney Orpheus a little via social media, and he’s another knowledgeable, wise lovely human being with a sense of humor. Other Thelemites have also come to my attention who are not as famous but just as lovely. I had a wonderful private conversation with artist Cathryn Orchard that was illuminating and encouraging.

Like anything with spirituality and magic, a lot of synchronicity was involved. I had Thelemic books come to me for review, I had Thelemites begin interacting with me all of a sudden on social media after years of silence on both sides, and books I already owned seemed to speak to me in new ways. So I began to read a lot of Thelemic literature, both new books aimed at the neophyte and Crowley’s own more dense writings. I began to research on the web and listen to relevant podcasts. And I began to practice baby steps of Thelemic practice.

It was new. It was weird. It was bizarre. It felt right.

Then came the angst. Is Thelema Pagan? Can I reconcile my feelings regarding Crowley with the religion for which he served as a prophet and interpreter? How do I feel about the quaint, antiquated misogyny I perceive in some of Crowley’s work? After a lot of spiritual dead-ends in my past, could I trust that this is my proper path? What will my friends think? Is this a step too far for my readers? Am I not stupid to write about my spiritual path so publicly when I am still growing and evolving as a person? What if I evolve past this, too?

As I sit here and write this, it occurs to me that converting to a new faith is like falling in love. Reason plays a part, but it is not all. Emotion plays a big role, and like with a romantic relationship, you have to decide whether you are merely involved or committed. A scary prospect when you know your choices affect your future well-being and those around you that you love. Will this new love endure and be accepted as good for me by my friends? Will the loves of my past that were bad fits, however hard I tried to make them work, be held against me? I’ve been involved with a lot of different aspects of Pagan religion, but commitments have not stuck. And like with most love affairs, there isn’t really a bad guy, just a bad fit. Now I am once more at a threshold where I have to decide whether I will move beyond simply being involved to being committed, and it is very tempting.

What I do know is I have rediscovered what drew me to Paganism to begin with: the sense of possibility, the clear sense of self-responsibility, and deep, meaningful ritual integrated into daily life. I also have found what I considered frustratingly absent from the Pagan religions I have been involved in: a coherent, deep and stable religion I don’t have to create myself, or flesh-out into something more solid. When I consider that, I find myself having a lot of sympathy for Crowley, who devoted his life to developing a full-bodied religion founded on the Book of the Law for others. It must have been frustrating for him to have to grasp his way through the bits and pieces for himself, rather than being able to relax into the arms of an established faith tradition.

I’m still very proud of and grateful for my initiation into Ravenwood trad Witchcraft. Good people and deep magic there. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had in the various Pagan religions I’ve studied. I don’t know if Thelema is Pagan, but I do know it’s not not Pagan. It has multiple deities, uses magick and expresses deep reverence for the natural forces of the Universe. Close enough for me.

Regardless, I’ve been performing the daily solar prayers of Liber Resh for a month, and find it has become a treasured part of my daily life. Maybe I’m not performing it quite as Crowley instructs, but I find it a comfort nonetheless. I’ve been exploring pentagram rituals that make more sense and are far more useful to me than the LBRP. I’ve been struck and fascinated at the elegant and layered relationship between Nuit and Hadit, and found the relationship between the celestial and earthy gods relevant and useful to my own revamped spirituality. I find the injunction to not discuss the Book of the Law useful, comforting and hilarious. Those who seek to discuss it openly and interpret it are called “centres of pestilence,”  which seems to be used both seriously and tongue-in-cheek. As people obviously do discuss it and interpret it, this injunction pricks the ego so no one will take their own interpretation too seriously. I also find the concept that some things are too sacred to change or put to a vote refreshing. Mostly I find the bedrock philosophy a spiritual balm and breath of fresh air now that I have a better understanding of it.

I don’t know if I will join the O.T.O. I think it’s a fine organization full of fine people that provides useful services to it’s members, but I’m not chomping at the bit to sign on the dotted line. One initiation is quite enough to process at the moment, and the one into Witchcraft was a doozy. I’m not interested in A.’.A.’. at all. I don’t need to participate in either to practice Thelema. I’ll still write about pan-Pagan issues and news. I’ll still be as opinionated as ever. I might post about Thelema from time to time and become a “centre of pestilence” in my own right, even though I’m as green as it gets and no expert. I’ll likely write about magick more. I think I’ll be a bit more relaxed. Well, more relaxed for me, that is.

And that doesn’t answer all your questions or mine, but it is the best I can do right now. If it seems weird to you, rest assured it’s weird to me too. But life is full of strange surprises and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. As the wise Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Taking time to stop and take stock of your spiritual life is good, and sometimes bizarre.

Love is the law, love under will.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://twitter.com/nycflame Phoenix Deovere

    As someone also going through a Saturn return I can sympathize with the wild, heady and bizarre ride it can be. Good luck on your new path
    P.S. Lon is a trip is he not?  :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Saturn’s return should die in a fire. I know it’s useful, but really? The must be better ways of going about this…. *shakes fist at universe*

      Lon is a hoot!

  • Cathryn Orchard

    Good luck to you Star, wherever you path takes you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Thanks Cathryn!

  • FernWise

    Blessings on your path.  FWIW, I’ve lots of Pagan friends in the OTO’s William Blake lodge …. one of whom also has her Saturn Return going on. 

  • sunfell

    Saturn Return is an invitation to ‘clean house’ as it were. Is your House clean? Emotionally? Existentially? If you’re still feeling at odds with your Path, start tossing, don’t cling to or hoard outdated, outgrown concepts. Sometimes you have to zero out, clear the decks, toss out the fluff, silence the noise, start again. I’ve done it myself- more than once. And my second Saturn Return is on the horizon.

    Please take to mind that when one is in crisis, especially an existential one that you are obviously currently experiencing, one can be, dare I say it- suggestible. This can be dangerous, if you do not have a firm grounding. It can also be good, if you need to bust out of a rut. If necessary, run your mind back to what I call the Delphic Zero:

    0: Know Thyself.
    1: Nothing in Excess.

    Nothing means exactly that: NOTHING. Asking yourself if Thelema is “Pagan” is a signal that you’re overthinking things.

    Nine words serve the Seeker best:

    Keep what works.
    Fix what’s broke.
    Ditch the rest.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Thanks for the concern. I hit the Delphic zero awhile back, before I began seriously considering Thelema, and that’s an experience I’m not comfortable sharing. Actually I went beyond Delphic zero to “All I know is I exist at this moment.” It’s scary at how flat the landscape becomes at that point.

  • sunfell

    Ah, but take another step back, and you’ll end up at “I do/do not exist at this moment.” There is the real zero point. Uncoupling ego is amazingly freeing, but not for everyone. It’s like rooting the multiverse.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Well if I don’t exist I’m totally going to stop paying my bills.

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    You were right – the hints were there, but I didn’t connect all the dots.  In retrospect it isn’t at all surprising that this is where you’re headed.

    I have one of Lon Milo DuQuette’s books in my to-be-read pile – I think I need to bump it up to the front of the line.

    I’ve long had a fascination with Thelema and with ceremonial magic in general.  But while it speaks to my head, it doesn’t speak to my heart.  I’m looking forward to following your progress – what you share explicitly as well as the unstated effects it has on your writing.  It will be interesting to see if you find something I missed, or if – as I suspect – this simply isn’t my flavor of Paganism (Thelema is as Pagan as you make it).

    Congratulations on finding a path and good luck on this new segment of your spiritual journey!

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Thanks. I have the opposite problem, many Pagan religions speak to my head and not to my heart. Finding a much more concise and eloquent expression of something I have been trying to articulate for years was what won me over.

      I don’t know how it will affect my writing. I wrote this book-ended by the traditional Thelemic greetings. Not certain if I will keep doing that.

  • Aidan Kelly

    Well, out of my weird collection of data, I recall that St. Augustine said, “As long as you love,  you can do as you like.”  Of course, he also explained that one needs to understand exactly what “love” means in this context. He did NOT mean “falling in love,” but something closer to C.S. Lewis’s definition of love as caring about the other person’s welfare more than you care about your own.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    My Saturn Return sucked, and was extremely long…but, thankfully it’s over, and the other problems in my life have moved in to attack me as would be more expectable!  ;)

    In any case, you’re going to love the EBC, as there’s lots of (cool!) Thelemites who attend it.  Brandy Williams in particular would be one person I think you should meet, if you’ve not met her before…

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       I’m pretty certain mine started rumbling about three years ago and is just now clearing out. At least, I hope it is…

  • http://www.iao131.com/ IAO131

    93 – You may enjoy this essay if you like the idea of affirming the right of others to do their Wills (it is split into 4 parts but here is the 1st part): 
    http://iao131.com/2012/05/21/true-will-the-radical-re-orientation-towards-becoming-who-we-are-pt-1/ 

    93 93/93,
    IAO131

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Thanks!

  • Cowalker

    I’m an atheist who finds it interesting to read about the beliefs of others. As I rejected Christianity I dipped a toe into Wicca, but was not persuaded.

    Anyway, I admire the respectful and helpful comments offered in response to Star’s potential “conversion.” I guess Pagans really are tolerant. Kind of a contrast to the atheist to Catholic conversions and vice versa.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Well, I’m not exactly straying too far from the herd. Had I become Muslim I’d imagine the story would be different.

  • kenneth

    I don’t think it’s weird at all that you turn a turn toward Thelema. I think it has a perfectly natural compatibility with the pagan heart and soul, even if it is not specifically delineated as a pagan religion. I learned of Crowley about the same time I learned of the existence of Wicca, circa the mid-1980s. Learned of Crowley of all places from role playing gaming – Call of Cthulhu.

     Got interested enough in the back story of Pre WWII occultism that I did some serious reading and developed a real respect for Uncle Aleister. Screwy as he was, he was the real deal when it came to magick theory and practice. His body of work truly rates a Nobel, or at least a Wolf Prize, if those prizes recognized such fields of endeavor. I’m convinced he also personally helped transmit some portion of ritual element from ceremonial magick to Wicca. Thelema was one of the avenues I explored after my first coven experience went off the rails. I did my minerval and spent some time with Aum Ha Lodge in Chicago.

     Ultimately I found I was still Wiccan at heart. As an actual theology and religion, Thelema didn’t resonate with me quite as I’d hoped. It’s steeped rather heavily in Kabbalah and Judeo-Christian ritual forms, and even though they take a totally different approach to it, I just had too much baggage with those things. I also wasn’t up to taking on a multi-tiered grade and order system. All that said, I don’t at all regret my time with them and I continue to hold them in high respect.  Several years ago I had the great fortune to take a day-long in-depth class on the Thoth Tarot with Duquette. It was incredibly informative. He makes Crowley’s work much more accessible. I think anyone involved in magickal work of any stripe can benefit enormously from Crowley’s body of work, including that which arose as Thelema, whether or not you ever become a formal adherent. 

  • Joanne K McPortland

    Thank you for this, Star. Though it may sound bizarre, I am struggling with many of the same questions—how do I keep my ambivalence about some of the Faith’s spokespersons from getting in the way of the Faith? how do I deal with the antiquated (though not really quaint, in my case) strain of misogyny in the writings of some of the Faith’s founders and leaders? will my friends think I’m nuts?—in my return to Catholicism. In the end, though, you’re right: it’s a love affair, and all that other stuff is chaff. Your statement  “I also find the concept that some things are too sacred to change or put to a vote refreshing,” and the blessing you find in ritual are things I could say about my dance with Catholicism. I know our two traditions couldn’t more antithetical in some ways, but I wish you as much joy (the only cure for when life goes utterly flat) in your journey as I am finding in mine.

  • Ryan

    Congratulations, I am happy for your movement into a realm of self peace out of crisis. And might I add, I imagine Thelema wouldn’t mind you evolving past it… you know, if that was your Will…


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X