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I have written over 5,000 unpublished words in an attempt to write this post.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.
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.
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.